“I never know how each film will end. When I’m filming, I shoot each scene as if it were a short film. It’s only when I edit that I worry about the narrative. My objective is to tell a story, but that’s the final thing I do.”
Writer-director André Téchiné said that sometime in the mid-Nineties, but I’d enjoy thinking he was moved to these remarks by his 2011 film Unforgivable (Impardonnables). Unforgivable tells a story—lots of stories, really—but in ways that would frustrate a student of plot points, “motivations,” and orthodox screenplay architecture. And yet it flows along intoxicatingly.
Veteran crime novelist (André Dussolier) seeks quiet accommodations in Venice to write his next book. Instead of the tidy urban apartment with view he had in mind, the gorgeous real-estate agent (Carole Bouquet) shows him a house on the rustic island of Sant’Erasmo. He’ll take it, as long as she agrees to cohabit. She doesn’t reply, but cut to somewhat later and it’s apparent they made a deal.
But no, let’s not cut to that “somewhat later.” Instead, savor how the realtor, Judith by name, takes novelist Francis to the island. They’re in a small motorboat, on choppy waters, when the engine conks. The lady apologizes for running out of gas; Francis, a wizened fellow, cracks a joke about that being an old trick. Besides (1) reversing the classic parameters of the joke and (2) reasserting the joker’s already-apparent randiness, the joke (3) teases against gender roles and anticipates shufflings of sexual possibilities to be explored as the film unreels. Meanwhile, there they are, bobbing in a suddenly powerless boat on a restless sea with a very big and very loud cruiseship massing over them. The situation, the image and activity on screen, is at once comical, surreal, absurd, and potentially perilous. Then Judith produces oars and in scarcely more time than it takes to type this, they row to shore and safety, no big whoop.