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July 20, 2012

André Téchiné has a habit of making the sort of movies that earn the stereotype of arty French cinema. They can be a bit long, and a bit too wordy, or not wordy enough. And while it seems clear that the director is trying to say something, it may not be clear what exactly that is. It can be frustrating and confusing, especially if you show up to watch something that’s supposed to be great but which ends up flying over your head. I’m here to tell you to relax; even someone who watches as much of this stuff as I do can find it confusing, as happened with Impardonnables — released as Unforgivable, subtitled in English. Sometimes these guys really just aren’t all that clear.

Francis (André Dussollier) is an acclaimed mystery writer — the “king of the neo-gothic thriller” — in a bit of a slump. He moves to Venice to work on his next book, where he is instantly smitten with his real estate agent, Judith (Carole Bouquet), who sets him up with a house on the nearby island of Sant’Erasmo. She evidently accepts his ludicrous proposal to move in with him the day they meet, since they are married when Francis’ daughter, Alice (Mélanie Thierry), visits a year and a half later.

But things start to fall apart when Alice vanishes. Judith guesses she might have run off with Alvise (Andrea Pergolesi), a young man with an aristocrat’s name but none of the money who makes up the difference with shady drug and art deals. Francis hires Judith’s friend, Anna Maria (Adriana Asti) — a retired private investigator — to track Alice down even as Judith begs him to leave Alice alone.

There is much ado made about pasts; Judith has a past with both Anna Maria and Alvise, and her frequent, sudden nosebleeds suggest something even darker. As Francis starts wondering about Judith’s past — and if it’s really behind her — he hires Anna Maria’s recently-incarcerated son, Jérémie (Mauro Conte), to follow her. But his paranoia may have as much to do with his own unfaithful past as with any real grounds for suspicion.

At one point, Francis tells Jérémie that setting out to harm someone is an unpardonable sin. The problem is that it’s never clear who has set out to harm anyone, or who had committed this sin in their past. There are hints, allusions, and allegations aplenty, but never enough dots to even start connecting.

So we fall back on more ephemeral themes — of touching and being touched; loving and being loved — and again we’re stymied. These ideas come up repeatedly enough to hint at importance, but never enough to sound like a statement.

The tantalizing part is that Téchiné has a gift for constructing the feel of his story. There’s something of Hitchcock in the way he ratchets up the tension. It can be fun to watch, but there’s never any payoff; the energy all just fizzles away into nothingness.

It’s quite possible Téchiné does have a point to make, and that I really am just not bright enough to understand it. If that’s the case, I congratulate him on his obfuscatory achievement and graciously admit my defeat.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: It’s a tight judgement call, but I’m going to say it fails.

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