Andre Techine’s Unforgivable: Best Film of the Year? reviewed by Armond White for CityArts

Unforgivable by Armond White

Cherubina, the nickname given to Judith (Carole Bouquet) in Unforgivables, comes from the love trickster in Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro. Judith, a former model with a bisexual past, now sells real estate, brokering a villa in Venice to the macho novelist Francis (Andre Dussollier) and they become lovers. Their emotional tension and physical passion prove the complexity of human character evoking the aria “Non so piu cosa son” ( “I don’t know anymore what I am”).

This mystery, echoed in the tumultuous relations of Judith and Francis’ friends and children, is Andre Techine’s specialty. The turbulent, elegant, multi-layered Unforgivables ranks with his greatest films. Few other movies define family relations with such interconnected depth and spiritual exuberance. Casual moviegoers may be perplexed at Techine’s speed (especially if they don’t pick up on the rhythm of his intricate character interactions) as he collapses time and affinities and misunderstandings, all in life’s onward rush.

Techine knows the mistakes that people make define their lives and Unforgivables (starting with Judith and Francis’ meet-ugly) zeroes in on the errors that take a lifetime to understand and, possibly, rectify. Julien Hirsch’s video imagery focuses on people in motion–literally through the streets of Venice or cruising its waters–to visualize their emotional states. “I need to be unsettled” says Alice (Melanie Thierry), Francis‘ beautiful, insecure actress-daughter. Her immature confusion parallels what in Judith is now tough but unique, nervy, tense. (Techine’s usual Deneuve archetype seen freshly). “I no longer desire or inspire.” Judith laments.

The extraordinary balance of these unsettled lives (lovers, parents, children) refresh a French movie tradition. Unforgivables suggests an invigorated version of Renoir’s Rules of the Game which was also based on Beaumarchais (original author of The Marriage of Figaro) but filtered through–delivered from–contemporary cynicism. Among its Venice spectacle is a quizzical shot of Rendentore Church (Christ the Redeemer chapel) that, after Techine’s marvelous AIDS drama The Witnesses, testifies to life’s fertility potential after the plague.

Unforgivables embarrasses the childish solipsism that currently passes for adult storytelling in recent American movies. It takes cues from life and Techine’s cinepile past, using Adriana Asti as Judith’s former lover to make a subtextual homage to Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution because Techine insists our artistic and moral heritage still matters. Techine also evokes Last Tango in Paris in the film’s blood-rich sensuality. This includes a shocking act of vengeance so politically astute that our film culture would benefit by discussing for the rest of the decade.