Zach Haines ’14
Every April, Cinestudio celebrates “April in Paris,” a weeklong event that showcases of a diverse array of francophone cinema, both classics and the works of up-and-coming filmmakers. This year, the selections included “Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle” (Two or Three Things I Know About Her) a 1967 film by the master of French New-Wave cinema, Jean-Luc Godard; the Chris Marker 1983 world-trekking semi-documentary “Sans soleil” (Sunless); as well as Michael Haneke’s voyeuristic cult classic Caché (Hidden), which stars Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche and acclaimed filmmaker Daniel Auteuil. Of all the films in this spectacular line-up, I chose to see André Techiné’s “Impardonnables” (Unforgiveable), which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011.
The story is set in Venice, a rather obvious setting for the intertwining series of love affairs that ensues. At the outset, we are introduced to Francis (André Dussollier), an author of crime-fiction novels looking to retire somewhere amidst the mythical, winding waterways of Venice. He meets a French real estate agent named Judith (Carol Bouquet), who shows him an elegant cottage tucked away in the quieter reaches of the lagoon on the island of Sant’Erasmo. Francis is pleased and decides to buy the house and then asks Judith to marry him. Keep in mind that this is their first meeting.
Fast forward to a year from this encounter: Francis and Judith are living happily together on Sant’Erasmo, despite the Francis’ struggle with writer’s block. One day, Francis’ adult daughter Alice (Mélanie Thierry) and granddaughter Vicky (Zoé Duthion) come for a visit in order to meet Judith for the first time. For reasons I have yet to determine, while Judith and Alice are swimming in the lagoon, Alice swims away and disappears, abandoning her daughter. Francis hires an alcoholic private detective named Anna Maria (Adriana Asti), who discovers that Alice eventually swam away to Paris, where she is living with a Venetian heroin-dealer named Alvise.
Next in this seemingly endless series of subplots, Francis, motivated by Judith’s extensive history of affairs with members of both sexes, hires Anna Maria’s son Jérémie (Mauro Conte), a disturbed ex-convict, to stalk Judith through the streets of Venice and report on her quotidian activities. As the distrust grows between Francis and Judith, their relationship winds down into a state of stale indifference. It is only after they have separated that Francis is able to begin writing again.
Godard’s influence is undeniably present in Techiné’s work; in fact, I’m sure that all modern French filmmakers draw upon the legacy of Godard in some way or another. However – and I know true cinephiles everywhere will be appalled – have not yet developed a taste for the French New-Wave’s particular brand of detachment. Call me a Hollywood hedonist, but I like to be able to understand – or at least speculate – why the characters in a film are doing what they’re doing. These rules don’t necessarily apply in Impardonnables; instead, the characters are driven by invisible and unfounded passions that make them, more often than not, un-relatable. About halfway through the film, I couldn’t help but notice the restlessness of the audience members around me, who, like me, seemed to be giving up hope that any of the subsequent events would make any sort of meaningful impression.
Overall, Impardonnables can be characterized in one word: ennui. It seems to be the predominant emotion experienced by the characters in the film: all of them are incessantly searching for something satisfying, yet always end up taking two steps backward for every one in the right direction. Unfortunately, the film seems to have precisely the same effect on its viewers. That’s not to say that a movie about the misdirected follies of man can’t be a success: one of my personal favorites, Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” does exactly that. However, André Techiné’s differs ‘Impardonnables” in that it fails to (or perhaps consciously decides not to) make us fall in love with its pervading sense of ennui. I want to be invited into the world of the film and shown something beautiful, something horrifying, or a combination of the two. This time around, however, I simply left the theatre feeling unimpressed.