Carole Bouquet and Andre Dussollier in a scene from "...

Carole Bouquet and Andre Dussollier in a scene from " Unforgivable." Credit: Strand Releasing

To describe a movie as "French" can mean a lot things to a lot of people, but most of those things describe the work of director Andre Techine, who is capable of poetry, and occasional greatness ("Les Voleurs," "Wild Reeds"), but always makes movies whose characters are not flawed because of the demands of a story, but because flawed humanity is the story.

In "Unforgivable," which has a surfeit of characters running around a glorious Venice in search of emotional moorings, Techine lavishes upon us not just scenery and characters but complications and emotional turmoil in pursuit of subtlety. If this seems perverse, it most certainly is.

But it is also warmly entertaining and provocative. Based on Philippe Djian's novel "Impardonnables," the story begins with Francis (André Dussollier), a crime writer who can't predict the inevitable plot twists in his own life, looking for a place to live and finding Judith (Carole Bouquet), the real estate agent who rents him a house on a nearby island and steals his heart. And he hers. Perversely -- emotional perversity not being an unknown quantity in French cinema -- Francis can't write because he's too happy. And an idle mind is a dangerous thing.

Like the rising waters slowly swallowing Venice, complications begin to engulf the characters. Francis' daughter, an annoying beauty named Alice (Mélanie Thierry), arrives, her young daughter (Zoé Duthion) in tow, and then promptly disappears. Francis hires a private detective, Anna Maria (Adriana Asti) -- Judith's ex-lover -- to track down his daughter and then pays Anna Maria's ex-con son, Jérémie (Mauro Conte), to shadow his wife, whom he suspects of having an affair. The layering of plotline on plotline, and nuance on nuance, is fascinating, and Techine's dramatically darkens the mood as the plotline proceeds. But nothing is ever as captivating as the people who inhabit the movie. And for all Techine's filmmaking virtuosity, that's sort of the point.

PLOT A mystery writer's obsession with his younger wife gets the better of him. Unrated

CAST André Dussollier, Carole Bouquet, Mélanie Thierry

LENGTH 1:51

PLAYING AT Sag Harbor Cinema

BOTTOM LINE Stylish, knowing and wry (In French with English subtitles)

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