Unforgivable (Impardonnables): Cannes 2011 Review

A fine French drama brimming with anguish, passion, betrayal and joy as veteran Andre Techine puzzles over the mysteries of human heart.

Unforgivable should enjoy the wide French and art-house viewership that Techine usually commands.


“I need to be unsettled,” says a character in veteran filmmaker Andre Techine’s Unforgivable (Impardonnables). This seems to be the guiding principle of most of the characters in the film, people who set goals in conflict with one another or develop passions that are as destructive as they are constructive. No one knows the human heart, the film makes clear, for the heart often works against the mind in its pursuit of happiness.

It’s a fine thing to see a filmmaker mature and wise enough to show the limits of wisdom. The irrational resides within his characters even as they find means to justify and defend their actions.

Unforgivable should enjoy the wide French and art-house viewership that Techine usually commands. More festival dates undoubtedly loom before the film opens in France on August 24.

Putting several interwoven storylines into play the moment a successful novelist comes to Venice for the peace and quiet to write his next book — fat chance on peace and quiet! — Techine builds suspense into each of these stories. A year then passes that bears witness to love, betrayals, violence, jealousies, suspicions, heartbreak and self-destruction.

Moving a Philippe Djian novel from the Basque coast to Venice, or to be accurate to the rural island of Sant’Erasmo, Techine has inserted that exotic, picturesque but often troubling locale (at least in movies) into interlocking stories about the group of people who need “unsettlement.” Their movements about this watery city, on land and water, create a kind of emotional upheaval where danger lurks in every dark passage or motorboat ride.

Francis (Andre Dussollier) rents a house on the island but not before he has fallen under the spell of real estate agent Judith (Carole Bouquet). His rental is conditional on her moving in with him. She is, the movie later demonstrates, a woman who inspires both men and women to fall for her.

Abruptly, it’s the following summer and the two are married but Francis cannot write when he’s in love. So he has an enjoyable writer’s block but writer’s block nonetheless.

Francis’ estranged daughter Alice (Melanie Thierry) comes to visit with her young daughter. Then Alice disappears. This causes Francis to hire his wife’s ailing ex-lover, Anna Maria (Andriani Asti), a detective, to track down his missing daughter, which isn’t too hard since she hasn’t so much disappeared as “run off” with an impoverished aristocrat (Andrea Pergolesi), who dabbles in crime.

Meanwhile, Anna Maria’s own troubled son, Jeremie (Mauro Conte), has gotten out of prison and soon lands a well-paying job when a suspicious Francis hires him to follow his new wife to see if she is having an affair.

This is beginning to sound like a soap opera, which in a way it is and it isn’t. Techine, who wrote the script with Medhi Ben Attia, is interested not so much in plot details as the phenomenon of characters who seek peace yet wind up in eternal conflict.

The movie centers on Francis; he is the fulcrum on which the entire movie revolves. Consequently, his actions at times feel arbitrary, such as his sudden suspicions about his wife, provoked by little more than her friendship with a local wine grower. Nevertheless, character behavior and transitions all feel credible.

Techine keeps his characters at an intimate distance from the viewer. You get to know them better with each passing season, yet they remain unknowable. Because they barely know themselves! Until the final moment, Francis isn’t sure what is it he wants. He thinks it is to finish his novel. But there the novel finally is, in his own hands, and he’s still unsatisfied.

As befits a film made mostly by old hands in front of and behind the camera, Unforgivable is as smoothly made, as those waters between Venice and Sant’ Erasmo are choppy and turbulent.



Cannes Directors’ Fortnight
Sales: TF1 International
Production companies: SBS Films/CRG International Films/TF1 Droits Audiovisuels/France 3 Cinema
Cast: Andre Dussollier, Carole Bouquet, Melanie Thierry, Adriana Asti, Mauro Conte
Director: Andre Techine
Screenwriters: Andre Techine, Medhi Ben Attia
Based on a book by: Philippe Djian
Director of photography: Julien Hirsch
Production designer: Michelle Abbe
Music: Max Richter
Costume designer: Khadija Zeggai
Editor: Herve de Luze
No rating, 111 minutes