It's virtually impossible to describe Unforgivable (Impardonnables), a deceptively simple slice-of-life story about two years in the life of a French couple who meet, fall in love, and marry in Venice.
A story with no real beginning, middle, or end, writer-director André Téchiné's 19th feature is an exquisitely crafted, brilliant, confusing, disordered, maddening, and wonderfully flawed film that tries to show life as it is lived.
A master psychologist, Téchiné creates characters who are changeable, fickle, contradictory, pulled to and fro by desires they scarcely understand.
Above all, they are incomplete and they suffer for it.
Changing Times (2004) is about a man who waits three decades for the love of his life finally to return to him. The Girl on the Train (2009) is about a young woman who tries to feel needed, important, and complete by falsely accusing a group of black and Arab men of attacking her in an anti-Jewish pique.
Téchiné's latest entry stars André Dussollier as Francis, an aging French mystery writer ("the king of neo-gothic thrillers," critics call him) who decides to write his next book in Venice. Looking for a house to rent, he meets and immediately falls for his real estate agent, Judith, a former model played by the always radiant Carole Bouquet.
White-maned and with the hint of a white beard, Francis is charming, charismatic, and smart. We're immediately taken by him - despite his absurd decision to invite Judith, within three minutes of meeting her, to move in with him.
We jump ahead 18 months to find the couple living an idyllic life in their rustic island home outside Venice. Things begin to sour when Francis' daughter Alice (the cherubic Mélanie Thierry) and 12-year-old granddaughter Vicky (Zoé Duthion) come for a visit.
Alice, who was herself a teenager when she had Vicky, is petulant, perpetually angry, and rebellious. She tells Judith that Francis drove her mother to suicide, then takes off to party with her drug-dealer friends, leaving her father to care for Vicky.
"There should be a ban on reproduction," Francis later tells a friend. "It's the only way out of guilt."
Francis' obsessive need for control drives him to hire a private investigator to tail Alice, who, meanwhile, has decided to leave her family for good. Francis hires a second person to follow Judith, convinced she is having an affair.
If we once found him charming, giving, now we see in him a vain control freak. Like all people, he's both.
Téchiné keeps the plot simple, yet continuously adds new layers to his remarkably memorable characters.
Francis and Judith's small circle of friends includes the P.I.; Anna Maria (Adriana Asti), who was once Judith's lover; and her son, Jérémie, a sullen, violent 24-year-old man-child who lures gay men only to beat them up.
So who or what is unforgivable? Parents, for having children? Jérémie, for his hateful, violent outbursts? Alice, for abandoning her child? Francis, for his creepy obsession over the two women in his life?
There are no revelations in Unforgivable, no epiphanies, and above all no resolutions. Only the constant movement of life and the chance events that lead us to make and break connections.
As Téchiné knows all too well, it's impossible to capture life in a story - all stories invariably simplify the truth. But he comes close with Unforgivable. Its characters will haunt you long after you see it.