It’s not exactly clear what the inexcusable sin is in Unforgivable. In fact, if this film by France’s André Téchiné didn’t begin and end with the same two characters, it wouldn’t even be clear whom it’s primarily about. Unforgivable’s official synopsis may mention a novelist who becomes obsessed with his wife’s past and daily doings, but as executed, the film is subplot after subplot after subplot, with story lines interrupting one another again and again. It’s a frustrating viewing experience that begs for paring.
Throughout, however, one strong theme floats to the surface: These are people who live their lives on their own terms, regardless of the feelings of those close to them. The novelist of the synopsis is Francis (André Dussollier), who meets model-turned-real estate agent Judith (Carole Bouquet) when he’s looking for an isolated place to write near Venice. She finds him one; he immediately asks her to move in with him. The film jumps to a year and a half later, and they’re married. He harps, constantly, about his writer’s block and her workaholic ways.
Spliced into their narrative is Francis’ married-but-carefree daughter, Alice (Mélanie Thierry), who disappears during a visit with the couple; a retired private investigator, Anna Marie (Adriana Asti), who is Judith’s former lover; Anna Marie’s ex-convict son, Jeremie (Mauro Conte); and Alice’s husband, daughter, and current fling, who’s a well-known drug dealer. Francis asks Anna Marie to help him find Alice. Then, after discovering more about Judith’s romantic history, he pays Jeremie to follow her around. Got all that?
Too bad that all of this amounts to…not much, except the revelation that most of the characters are fiercely independent and do as they please, even if it makes them jerks. And—need it be said?—it’s hard to care about what happens to a bunch of jerks. Though the setting is Venetian (with scenes of motorboat surveillance being the most pleasing aspect of the film), the characters are very French, with wide-open-minded views on sex, fidelity, and marriage. (The only exception is Jeremie, who beats up a man who makes a pass at him—though this brief scene’s purpose is a mystery.) After following everybody’s ups and downs, the film patly circles back to Francis and Judith, whose tolerance of the nonsense in both their intimate and peripheral lives is never convincing—perhaps the only part of the film that’s truly unforgivable.