Andre Techine is one prolific Frenchman, and that’s a good thing. Keep them coming (and crossing the Atlantic). As long as we don’t expect another "Wild Reeds" (surely one of the best gay coming of age films out there), his dramas, which are rife with awkward cruelty and tense relationships, deliver on their promise for bitter pleasure.
Tellingly, when his new one, "Unforgivable," arrives at a character’s true happiness, it is a problem. Francis (Andre Dussollier) is a well-known French crime novelist who moves to Venice to write his next work. Presumably, he is striving for solitude, and solitude is easily attainable at the remote island home that model-turned-real estate agent, Judith (Carole Bouquet), recommends to him. Despite her rather cold dismissal of him from her office into torrential rain when he initially expresses trepidation, he ends up smitten and insisting that she move in with him as a condition for his signing a lease. The problem is that he can’t write when he is in love. When he states this simply in the presence of his actress daughter, Alice (Melanie Thierry), she laughs heinously at him- a rather intriguing forewarning regarding her attitude and behavior.
Considering the visibly marked age differential (he must be twenty years her senior), this new romance seems implausible initially. However, through the emergence of one of Judith’s ex’s, Anna Marie (Adriana Asti), we learn that she has a history of dating her elders. Their falling in love mostly happens off-screen, which is fine, as Techine avoids cliché sunset moments but shows us the radiance of their affection in the scene of Alice’s visit. Dussollier and Bouquet both play expertly characters that are emotionally vulnerable yet determined to confront their demons independently. For the seasoned crime writer, this means hiring a private investigator in two separate instances.
First, the volatile Alice, who is having an affair with a local aristocrat turned drug dealer, disappears, taking with her all her belongings but leaving behind her daughter. Francis is the only one concerned, and it is easy to sympathize with his parental concern as Judith, Anna Marie, and Alice’s self-absorbed husband all scoff at him. Judith begrudgingly does her part to attempt to alleviate his anxiety by visiting Alvise’s den of illegal activity- but to no avail. Alice is not found, but we do discover that Judith and the incorrigible Alvise have some sort of past. When Francis finds this out, it is the beginning of his compounding suspicions. It seems that Judith knows too many people too intimately. As her sexual integrity comes into question, jealousy elicits Francis’s least flattering side; and he eventually opts to pay Anna Marie’s delinquent son to spy on his wife.
The connections between characters become a bit complicated, but it pays off. Techine, whose script is based on a novel by Phillipe Djian, excels at writing and directing scenes of unexpected duos- tense interactions between characters that wouldn’t ordinarily associate with one another, as well as scenes in which the characters have some underlying resentment. Fortunately, he has at his disposal actors who can handle the nuance required. The richness of Techine’s human interactions makes it difficult to complain about the occasional implausibility. It’s also refreshing that Techine tends to work in interesting gay characters when sexuality is ultimately peripheral to the narrative. Judith’s insouciant bisexuality and one character’s befuddling homophobic attack on a cruising stranger make for details that enliven the story with curiosity and uncertainty.
"Unforgivable" played Frameline 36 and opens August 10 at Landmark’s Opera Plaza in SF and Shattuck in Berkeley.