Sunday, July 1, 2012


When you see as many movies as I do, you develop a sixth sense for when a movie’s about to end. Even with the art films, if you’re simpatico, you’re on the same wavelength with the director, you connect with the theme and you recognize the conclusion even when it surprises most in the crowd. I and the rest of the matinee audience, however, were nonplussed by the abrupt ending of André Téchiné’s “Unforgivable.” Not that we minded; we stampeded for the exits and what remained of Saturday afternoon.

“Unforgivable” is a mystery and suspense picture with very little of either. As it opens, Francis, a successful author of crime thrillers walks out of the rain into a Venice real estate agency, where Judith, a woman young enough to be his daughter, tells him she doesn’t have a property that fits his criteria: four windows, one facing east. “You’ve described your hotel room,” she says, escorting him out. A year and a half later, with no further exposition, they’re married and living on remote Torcello Island; he’s never been so happy, but he suddenly can’t write a page.

Meanwhile, his daughter has gone missing, walking out abruptly on her husband and daughter and presumed to be ensconced with Alvise, a pretty-boy scion of nobility who’s cornered the (apparently not especially lucrative) small-time drug market in Venice. Pops enlists the retired detective Anna Maria, Judith’s good friend and (during their younger years) ex-flame, to follow her. He also hires Anna Maria’s recently-paroled son, Jérémie, to follow Judith around. You’ve heard of someone being insanely jealous? Francis’ jealousy is so mild that when Judith tells him she knows about Jérémie, and she slept with him (but only once!), he reacts with priestly equanimity.

The movie is full of such stilted encounters. In one badly-staged scene, Francis gets up from the funeral he and Judith are attending and coldcocks Jérémie inside the cemetery. In another, Jérémie in his speedboat rams into Francis in his, forcing the older man to disembark and call for safety. (Half the people in the movie have boat problems, from cut power cords to pannes d’essence.) Moments later, Jérémie shows up at Francis’ home. I just came to say goodbye, he says, and won’t you invite me in for a drink!

Judith, for her part, gets a nosebleed any time someone says something vaguely dramatic, a recurrence that plays like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch. And (minor spoiler alert) there’s a scene in which a dog is suddenly killed in a brutal and sadistic way that hit the theater like a sucker punch and added nothing to the picture

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