Francis (Andre Dussolier), a mystery writer goes to Venice to write a new novel. When he begins looking for a place to live, he meets Judith (Carole Bouquet), a real estate agent who is a French expatriate who had once been a model and is much younger than he is, The movie moves forward a year and a half and the two are married and living on the island of Sant ‘Erasmo off of the coast of Venice. Judith remains childless and she meets her ex-lover, Anna Maria (Adrianna Asti) who is now a private detective and visibly uncomfortable that she has run into Judith again because Judith is so easy to fall in love with and this is a hint of what is to happen later in the film.
We learn that Anna Maria’s son, Jeremie, who is in his twenties, is troubled and about to be released from prison and we hear that he cannot stand human contact and hates being touched. Then there is Francis’s daughter, Alice who comes for a visit and is pleased that her father is so happy. She then goes to visit a young man but never returns and we are left wondering whether something happened to her or whether she left because her father was so happy.
Andre Techine directed and co-wrote this film which is driven by the characters—parents and children, husband and wife, new and old lovers, detective and client. When Alice disappears and leaves her child behind with her father, Francis hires Anna Maria to find her.
We are led down alleyways and through canals as the screen changes from white to black and back again depending upon the emotional state. We soon realize that it is the messes in the lives of the characters that are the forces behind what we see on the screen.
Francis learns more than he wants to know about his married daughter. She has run away with a drug dealing lover. He also learns about his wife and must deal with how he has behaved in his marriage. Techine is known for exploring society in his films and here he looks at complex relationships. His direction of “subtly elliptical editing that compresses long periods of time, camerawork that evocatively fades to white during moments of emotional intensity, and the effectively sparing use of Max Richter’s chamber music—makes the script’s symbolism and coincidence feel organic and natural. These people’s lives become convincingly messy, not merely contrived movements by an auteur’s puppets”. The performances of the actors are excellent throughout and the ending is quite powerful as the relationships that appeared to have been torn apart begin to be rebuilt.