The latest film from French director André Téchiné (The Girl on the Train) is a perfect example of what American spectators usually expect from current French cinema and, to that extent, they should be satisfied: Unforgivable offers a gallery of twisted and decadent characters who cheat, lie and indulge in various vices, from sex to drugs. There are emblematic femmes fatales – Caroline Bouquet (That Obscure Object of Desire, For Your Eyes Only) –, intellectuals (André Dussollier as a writer), gratuitous nudity and some shocking moments. As for the tone, it is heavy, dramatic obviously taking itself seriously.
What’s amusing though is that Unforgivable doesn’t take place in Paris, as you might have expected, but instead in Venice and, with its collection of interconnected characters, it makes you feel that Mr. Téchiné might just be transposing here Woody Allen’s signature template (the American director has been using cities such as New York, Hollywood, Paris, Barcelona, London and Rome as settings).
The film centers on three characters: a writer, his lover and his daughter (Mélanie Thierry – The Princess of Montpensier), the script making sure to test and torture their relationship for more than 100 minutes before ultimately bringing everybody back together.
The film is based on a novel by Phillippe Djian who, among other things wrote Betty Blue – which was successfully adapted to the screen in 1986 – and collaborated with Swiss artist Stephan Eicher, as a lyricist. While Betty Blue was pretty extreme, the story worked well on film because it was convincing, focusing on only two shattered characters. Unforgivable seems however like a work that was intended to push the envelope, every single of its numerous characters being damaged, which seriously undermines its realism and drains the spectator – watching them make the same mistakes over and over gets tiresome pretty quickly.
From the writer with a writer’s block to the sleuthy aging beauty, the wild daughter, the drug afflicted son, the friend with a terminal disease and the corrupt aristocrat, the role of every clichéd character is to affect the audience; but, unless you let yourself get manipulated easily, chances are all this drama will let you indifferent even though you might found yourself invested in a few of these characters.
To his credit, the filmmaker avoids using Venice as a postcard and you won’t get to see all the typical touristic places. From what we see, life in Venice is like living in a village, which means you know everything about everybody. There is also a strong melancholic feel, like if the city was aware of its fading glory.
The French actress Carole Bouquet is the right choice to symbolize this city. While she kept her beautiful traits and still carries herself gloriously, her face is now rougher, making her look like an antique sculpture – she is, of course, well aware of this, her short haircut and serious looks emphasizing this feeling. As for Mr. Dussollier’s character, he is a good representation of Frenchmen: he is an intellectual, a big flirt, a careless grownup with a kid’s heart.
The two characters work well together and it’s hard to not succumb to their charm. Would they had been in a different setting, this film might have probably worked but, unfortunately, their presence alone can’t save Unforgivable from its over-the-top melodramatic script.
Director: André Téchiné – Actors: André Dussollier, Carole Bouquet – Running Time: 1:47 – Year: 2011 – Country: France