Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2012 6:45 pm 
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Motorboating in Venice

This new film by André Téchiné (Wild Reeds, The Witnesses) is adapted from a novel by Philippe Dijan, the writer whose 37°2 le matin was the basis for Jean-Jacques Beineix's classic film of obsessive love and madness Betty Blue, starrying Béatrice Dallle and the young Jean-Hugues Anglade. This time the result isn't as effective, but Unforgivable will still appeal to fans of the director. It's not only an interesting commentary on Téchiné's style and outlook. It has the odd pairings, the hermetic lives, the bisexuality, and the long rapid horizontal tracking shots, though the relationships and the characters don't seem as involving and convincing. This starts with the setting, Venice, changed from the Basque country of the novel. Nearly everyone speaks French, and Judith (Carole Bouquet), who is French, implausibly is not only a real estate agent in Venice but has had many love affairs there, of both sexes. Somehow these people and their relationships are atmospheric, even though nothing quite works.

Things begin when Francis (the veteran André Dusollier) arrives looking for a place to write and not only rents a house through Judith but impulsively asks her to move in with him. Jump to a year and a half later, and they're married and she's living there with him, on the little island of San Erasmo. The setting is pretty, but neither touristy nor gritty. Next Francis' married and impulsive daughter Alice (Mélanie Thierry) appears, and disappears, leaving behind her own daughter Vicky (Zoé Duthion). Francis hires an old flame of Judith's, Anna Maria (Adriana Asti), a retired investigator, to go to Paris hunting for Alice. She's having an affair with a young aristocratic Venetian drug dealer (Andrea Pergolesi) whom Judith knows and has gone to visit earlier in his mother's vast but decaying palazzo (no film set in Venice is complete without one of those). Anna Maria's young son Jérémie (Mauro Conte), a ferrety, depressive boy with haunted eyes and curly hair, was also in that trade and when he gets out of jail, Francis inexplicably hires him to tail Judith. Francis, having had many infidelities himself, and knowing Judith's colorful erotic past, can't believe she isn't cheating on him. Or maybe he wants the oddly attractive but unhappy Jérémie, who carries a little dog around with him everywhere, to get involved with Judith. Later Anna Maria is dying and Jérémie becomes suicidal. And Francis has writer's bloc, because "when I'm in love I can't write." The suspicion catches up with Francis and Judith and they become estranged, and then he can write again -- necessary, because they're both running out of money.

Much of this is implausible or just uninvolving -- this just isn't Téchiné at his best -- but it isn't silly, and Téchiné has made the material his own. The film is a constant smooth round of forward movement. People are always getting in and out of motorboats (required to get to and from San Erasmo) and speeding around in them, or spying on each other. Francis takes lots of photos and peers out his window through binoculars. Dusollier always has a subtlety and ease about him. Bouquet is transparent and elegant, a cold, ageless French beauty. The troubles of the other characters are complicated and mysterious. The way the dialogue constantly switches between French and Italian gives the film a trans-national, European Union quality.

Impardonables got a mixed critical reception in Paris when it opened there in the summer of 2011. Its reception was more favorable when it was released in the US almost a year later. Now it is available on an American DVD from Strand Releasing, so anyone can make up his mind. In March I reviewed this film as part of the FSLC Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Strand has also released DVD's of Téchiné's The Girl on the Train and The Witnesses, the latter decisively his most significant and deeply felt work of recent years.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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