Now that Mia Hansen-Løve has come to prominence with films like the Isabelle Huppert–led “Things to Come” and the recent “Bergman Island,” her first movie — “All Is Forgiven,” made in 2007 — is finally getting a U.S. release. For those who are already taken with Hansen-Løve’s sensibility, this debut can be seen as a confident first step in her development, a film that manages to be precise yet still highly open to interpretation.
Ultimately, the most impressive feature of “All Is Forgiven” is how much Hansen-Løve gets our point of view to shift regarding what we have been seeing, both in the moment and after we have had time to consider it in a larger context. In the first scenes, set in 1995, Hansen-Løve’s camera is entranced but yet also wary of Victor (Paul Blain), observing the playful physical bond he has with his 6-year-old daughter Pamela (Victoire Rousseau) in a way that makes these moments feel like fragments of memory that are being dredged up in order to interrogate them.
It is Pamela’s birthday, which Victor uses as an excuse to have a drink at 11 a.m., a warning signal not lost on his wife Annette (Marie Christine-Friedrich), who is German and far more concerned with rules of behavior than the feckless French Victor, who has stopped working; he tries to write poems but has also come to a standstill on that. Hansen-Løve keeps her camera on Victor and lets us see he’s trouble just by the way he walks around a room, as though he were trapped.
Relations between Victor and Annette start to fray in a slow-burning and realistic way, and little Pamela is often there in the room with them when they fight, leading us to question later in “All Is Forgiven” just how much she remembers of this period in her life. For this is a movie with a hinge: The first part takes place in 1995, but the second half takes place in 2007, when the grown-up Pamela (Constance Rousseau, “Simon Killer” — the older sister of Victoire) is struggling to recall what happened between her parents.
Hansen-Løve is interested in the effect of time passing, a phenomenon explored far more often in literature than in film because it is so difficult to make believable in a movie. She achieves her effects by focusing on a short period of time going by; she pursues a similar strategy in her later feature “Eden,” a film based on the memories of her brother when he worked as a DJ until that calling left him adrift after the first flush of his youth was gone.
The character of Victor in “All Is Forgiven” is also adrift, but in a far more dangerous way, and Hansen-Løve brings this out by carefully controlling Blain’s performance and how she and cinematographer Pascal Auffray (“Personal Shopper”) observe him. It becomes clear nearly right away just how crucial casting was for “All Is Forgiven,” because everything we are offered to judge is entirely dependent on how we view the performances of Blain and Friedrich.
A key moment in “All Is Forgiven” comes when Victor is speaking to his sister Martine (Carole Franck, “Breathe”). We are not told right away that Martine is his sister, but we can infer it fairly quickly. “Sometimes I’m paralyzed by anxiety,” Victor tells his sister, yet the expression on his face doesn’t look anxious at all but seductive, and we come to see that this is habitual with him whenever he is speaking to a woman.
Victor is the sort of man who looks at women with an expression that says, “I’m so cute and helpless, won’t you save me?” As “All Is Forgiven” goes on, and we get more information about how Victor and Annette first got together, it becomes clear just what a disaster they are as a couple and why that is the case, which is something that their grown-up daughter, and Hansen-Løve herself, must sort through.
Victor is a drug addict and a layabout, and the proper bourgeois Annette has made a huge mistake by falling in love with him, yet she finds herself crying into a phone about wanting more children with him after he has gone off with another woman. In the crucial scene where Annette makes a final break from Victor, Friedrich is very psychologically acute, physically dramatizing the way Annette has to force herself to cry because she is such a repressed person.
“All Is Forgiven” is engrossing, yet it is only after it is over and there is time to think about it that the film starts to really seem dazzling, as an unfolding portrait of loss that leaves us with many questions. Is Victor a kind of homme fatal who manages to get his hooks into one more woman — his grown-up daughter — by the end? Or has Annette’s stubbornness opened the door to this last seduction, which time and fate manage to make fatal? There is no correct answer to these questions, which is why Hansen-Løve’s “All Is Forgiven” is that rare thing: a perfectly ambivalent film that heralds the emergence of a considerable talent.
“All Is Forgiven” opens in select theaters and on demand Nov. 5.