Gay filmmaker AndrĂ© TĂ©chinĂ© opens his intriguing new drama, Unforgivable, (August 10), by rapidly introducing the four main characters. Francis (AndrĂ© Dussollier) is a celebrated crime writer looking for a rental property in Venice, Italy. He meets Judith (Carole Bouquet), a real estate agent, who suggests a place on the nearby island of Santâ€™Erasmo. Francis immediately suggests she move in with him. Judith, a bisexual, considers his proposition in a conversation with her ex, Anna Maria (Adirana Asti), a private detective. Anna Maria later meets her troubled son JĂ©rĂ©mie (Mauro Conte), who is soon to be released from prison.
The romantic and emotional attachments these characters have with one another come to light over the course of this subtle, engagingâ€”and for some, inscrutableâ€”film. TĂ©chinĂ© presents a series of episodes that belie issues of love, trust, and absence. While the director deftly traces the ebbs and flows of sexual and parental love that mirror the waves that surround Venice, the film requires considerable attention to mine all the significance being presented. Those viewers not up for the challenge will likely be bored.
Unforgivable features two plotlines, both involving investigations. One concerns Francisâ€™ daughter Aliceâ€™s (Melanie Thierry) disappearance.
He hires Anna Marie to search for her, and she does thisâ€”in France. This story, however, is quickly jettisoned for another narrative. When Francis suspects his (now) wife Judith of cheating on him, he hires JĂ©rĂ©mie to follow her. A low-key, but compelling, chase through the streets and waterways of Venice ends with Judith confronting JĂ©rĂ©mie. They soon take their relationship to a sexual level, which creates ripples in her marriage.
TĂ©chinĂ© establishes a palpable sense of longing and despair as both members of the married couple experience physical and emotional isolation. The film illustrates this with several marvelous scenes of Francis spying on his wife using binoculars, and of Judith swimming. The film teases out the dramatic tension as the characters mayâ€”or may notâ€”be provoking others by their actions. Does Francisâ€™ spying on Judith prompt her to sleep with JĂ©rĂ©mie? Are Francisâ€™ actions a ploy to cure his writerâ€™s block? And what are the ramifications of Judithâ€™s affair with her ex-loverâ€™s son? The film reveals most of these answers in due time, and it remains spellbinding throughout.
Viewers will become absorbed watching these complex characters and their daily routines. Scenes of Judith working at her agency, or JĂ©rĂ©mie playing with his dog, reveal details about how they act alone or with others that magnify or refract the way they interact with Francis and/or Anna Marie.
Unforgivable unpeels like an onion, revealing multiple layers over the filmâ€™s extended time frame. The film measures the distance between parents and children, and between lovers over the course of a year plus. Francisâ€™ separation from both Alice and Judith reflects how Anna Marie and JĂ©rĂ©mie are equally, but dissimilarly, distanced physically and emotionally.
However, TĂ©chinĂ© is really delving into a deeper theme that becomes apparent after the filmâ€™s most interesting sequence. One night, JĂ©rĂ©mie is followed byâ€”or perhaps luresâ€”a gay man through the canals of Venice. When the stranger makes a pass at him, JĂ©rĂ©mie throws him over the bridge into the water. A later scene shows the stranger chasing JĂ©rĂ©mie and exacting a violent revenge on the â€śgay basher.â€ť Francis witnesses the horrible act, and advises JĂ©rĂ©mie, â€śViolence against other people, setting out to wound or maim them, is unforgivable.â€ť
Herein lies what Unforgivable is really all about: the violenceâ€”be it physical or emotionalâ€”that people commit towards others. Aliceâ€™s disappearance upsets her father; Francis has Judith followed because he is emotionally vulnerable; Judithâ€™s behavior irritates her lovers; Anna Maria is pained by the actions of both her ex-lover and her son; and JĂ©rĂ©mie has abusive tendencies. These ideas are expanded upon, repeatedly, throughout the film as when Judith is hit on by Aliceâ€™s lover, or a character is found after a suicide attempt. TĂ©chinĂ© shrewdly shows without telling; he lets viewers grasp the meanings behindâ€”and consequences ofâ€”each characterâ€™s action. Francis, Judith, and JĂ©rĂ©mie are all seductive and sinister.
Unforgivable benefits from a quartet of strong performances. Bouquet is particularly alluring in the pivotal role of Judith. A scene where she wears a blonde wig and fights with Francis is terrific; she shows here how her identity is mutable and she cannotâ€”and will notâ€”be controlled by others. As Francis, Dussollier is credible as both a wise voice of reason, and an insecure father/lover. In support, Mauro Conte makes an indelible impression as the beguiling JĂ©rĂ©mie. He engenders sympathy even when he is most despicable.
TĂ©chinĂ© may deliberately obfuscate in Unforgivable, but the connections he creates sneak up on viewers. They generate immense insight about human behavior.
Â© 2012 Gary M. Kramer