André Téchiné is no Jean-Jacques Beineix (duh). But there is one curious degree of separation: cult Gallic scribe Philippe Djian wrote the books that became Beineix’s Betty Blue and Téchiné’s latest, Unforgivable. The new film’s plot is so complex it’s a bit of a miracle that the director makes it so fluid and breezy—but that’s to be expected from a card-carrying master of the post–Nouvelle Vague.

Novelist Francis (André Dussollier) has come to Venice looking for a quiet place to work. He meets real-estate agent Judith (Carole Bouquet) and informs her he will rent the island getaway she proffers—on the condition that she move in with him. Instant relationship! One year later, Francis’s bombshell/actress/daughter arrives, and then promptly disappears into a subplot involving a deviant aristo, causing Francis to hire a female private eye, who in turn is the mother of a young misanthrope freshly released from prison. Francis, for no real good reason, hires the young misanthrope to keep an eye on Judith, which leads to further complications. Did I mention the private eye is an ex-lover of Judith’s? Does it matter?

“There should be a ban on reproduction,” says Francis. “It’s the only way out of guilt.” He could be referring to the problems caused by his daughter, or his sex drive, or maybe even his writer’s block, a condition that afflicts him whenever he falls in love. Whatever. Francis’s fluster—as evinced by Dussollier and nurtured by Téchiné—makes for a pleasure both subtle and mildly sadistic.