Francis (André Dussollier) is a French mystery writer looking for a place to work on his new novel. He sets his sights on a small island off the coast of Venice, but when he falls for Judith (Carole Bouquet) the real estate agent he tells her he’ll only take the house if she agrees to move in with him. Many months later the two are married, and while she boats back and forth to Venice each day for work he spends the solitary afternoons struggling with writer’s block.
Things take a darker turn when his adult daughter, Alice (Mélanie Thierry), arrives with her own daughter for a visit then promptly disappears. Worried, he hires a retired private eye and ex-lover of Judith’s named Anna Maria (Andriani Asti) to help find her. His actions take a toll on his relationship, and he hires Anna Maria’s ex-convict son, Jérémie (Mauro Conte), to spy on Judith and confirm his suspicions of infidelity. There’s also an aristocratic, drug-dealing teenager and a gay, dog-killing vigilante.
Got all that? Good. Now go ahead and forget it all, because pretty much none of it matters to the filmmakers behind Unforgivable so it really shouldn’t matter to you.
“A woman who refuses her role as mother, her marital, family and social bonds. She takes the plunge into the unknown.”
Both Francis and Judith are interesting characters, at first, but the early time jump as well as several subsequent ones robs viewers of their transition stages. We’re moved from one situation to the next with little evidence in the way of how these people reached these points in their lives.
The film’s central thesis (and tag line) about past sins returning to haunt the present implies a focus on Francis’ past transgressions, but aside from his penchant for driving people in his life away there’s no real evidence of it here. A better through-line might be about the insular and selfish nature of people as each character here, save for Anna Maria, acts as often as not in their own self interest with callous disregard for those around them. They don’t get better, and despite the film’s strangely out of place, unconvincing and energetic rom-com-like ending the characters here fail to really grow.
It could be argued the film is more about observation than narrative, but characters need to be engaging and interesting regardless and they simply aren’t here. Plot threads are teased and either abandoned or left to simply fizzle out including the initial search for Alice that never once feels urgent or relevant. Anna Maria’s son, Jérémie, becomes a major player here but is essentially weightless and seems to exist solely as a catalyst for scenes of violence and action.
It’s a shame the story here is so uneventful and forgettable because the performances are quite good from all involved. Dusollier looks like a white-haired old man, but he has energy and drive to spare. And Bouquet, still a looker at 54 years old, carries more mystery, pain and allure in her eyes than most actresses half her age. They make a visually odd couple, but they sell it in their interactions and expressions.
The film also makes unique use of its Venice location with cinematography that captures the canals and waterways as far more functional than glamorous and exotic. The island retreat could be Nantucket for all we know, but when they go into the city for work, play or shopping the waterways and commute by boat are oddly matter of fact.
Unforgivable is essentially a character study of characters unconvincing in their worthiness of study. A tighter focus on Francis and Judith may have delivered on some of the film’s early promise, but as it stands this is a collection of tangentially related vignettes and people that warrant very little interest on their own.
The Upside: Strong acting
The Downside: Pacing makes the film feel twice as long; lack of focus or urgency; ending straight out of a romantic comedy does not fit here
On the Side: Unforgivable is based on a novel by Philippe Dijan who had a previous book adapted into the critically acclaimed 1986 film, Betty Blue.
Unforgivable opens in limited release today.