by David Lamble
In the latest drama from French director Andre Techine (Wild Reeds, The Witnesses ) fresh from this year's LGBT Festival, Venice becomes the backdrop for a Gordian knot of very messy lives. At the center of Unforgivable is Francis (Andre Dussollier), an aging and temporarily blocked French mystery writer who thinks a change of scenery will produce not only a good plot, but the piece of mind to see his new book through to completion before his publisher demands his advance back.
Francis' bid to rent a small garret-like room is thwarted by a persistent bisexual real estate woman, Judith (Carole Bouquet), who wants him to lease an off-shore island retreat that he thinks is too pricey for his budget. Francis winds up living with Judith, her lesbian private-eye ex Anna Maria, and the ex's gay-bashing ex-con son Jeremy. In the process he learns more that he bargained for about a hard-knocks crowd – enough, it turns out, to fill a book.
Just when Francis thinks he has everybody figured out, they surprise him, and not in a polite way. One night while following 24-year-old Jeremy through Venetian back alleys, he witnesses the boy and his small dog set upon by what at first appears to be a gang of muggers. The men kill Jeremy's dog "to teach him a lesson." One of the guys hisses at Francis, "What are you doing hanging out with this sicko, don't you know he beats up queers?"
When Francis confronts the boy as he's burying his dog, he gets an earful.
"Tomorrow I'll make a cross. I did woodcutting in prison."
"I tried to build a bridge with you. I got it all wrong. I give up. Is it true you beat guys up?"
"When they want to touch me. Nobody touches me!"
"Not even girls?"
"What if they go to the police? Hate crime, aggravating circumstances? You want to go back inside?"
"Don't say that."
"I'll say nothing. We don't talk the same language. Don't you realize that violence against other people, setting out to wound or maim, is unforgivable?"
Francis, of course, doesn't give up on this rude boy or anyone else in his cursed circle of friends. The love he does dish out gets rather tough, including a very public beating of the boy at the cemetery while they're burying his mom.
Techine treats all his "unforgivables" with a sense of despair, humor and some kind of rough justice. He sets us up for this death in Venice with shots of the elephantine cruise-liners bearing tourists and their Yankee dollars. Reports persist that Venice is a dying city, its priceless monuments and art treasures decaying, its population shrinking. Before it all melts away, catch this rich, empathetic portrait of the kind of folks they used to call "Euro trash," before the Euro crashed.