Film Review: Violette @ PIAF
Violette is the latest film by acclaimed French director, Martin Provost. Violette follows the turbulent life and rise to fame of Violette Leduc, critically acclaimed post-war French author and protégé of the famed feminist Simone de Beauvoir.
The film stars Emmanuelle Devos, whose portrayal of Leduc is simply astonishing. The life of Violette Leduc was a tumultuous one, and every moment of pain is felt through the brilliant and emotionally bare portrayal by Devos.
Cinematographer Yves Cape manages to capture the muted, oppressing life that Leduc lived through his fantastic use of colour (and the lack thereof). With the film ranging from during World War II till the early 1960s, stunning shots and breathtaking scenery bring colour back into the film right when it re-enters Violette’s life.
The structure of the film is in such a way that each section is devoted to the current subject of Leduc’s attention. The start of the film sees Leduc living in the countryside during the war, starved for affection in a marriage to a gay man, who compels Leduc to halt her advances by pouring her passions onto paper.
This sets the scene for her eventual move to Paris, where she stumbles upon the works of Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain), before handing her the manuscript of what would become her first published novel, L’Asphyxie. Leduc develops a relationship with de Beauvoir that is uncomfortably one-sided, bordering upon obsessive but ultimately fruitless, as her mentor cannot provide what she desires. As de Beauvoir become more and more recognised, Leduc gains solace in friendships with novelist Jean Genet (Jacques Bonnaffe) and perfume magnate cum benefactor Jacques Guerin (Olivier Gourmet).
Although the contents of Leduc’s writings are never explicitly mentioned, the audience gets glimpses through de Beauvoir herself, and through the narration throughout the film. It touches on her writings on abortion and sexuality in modern France, in ways that had never been exposed to the public.
The film name-drops a few times, with little teases of Albert Camus (Leduc’s eventual publisher) and Jean-Paul Satre without actually showing the men in the film, hinting at how influential the literary circle in which they moved truly was. Not showing the two influential authors really allowed the focus to remain on the achievements on Leduc, and kept the film pieced together.
Provost has created an extremely successful biopic, another notch to add to the bedpost after 2008’s Seraphine, about famous French painter Seraphine Louis. The film has charm, but also unfiltered emotional pain, all visible through the brilliant acting of Emmanuelle Devos and the supporting cast. Ultimately the film succeeds due to Provost not getting lost in the history of the people involved, but rather the emotion involved, and by tumbling the audience headfirst into the chaotic psyche driven by a woman in need of a emotional and physical connection.
Violette is the fantastic portrait of a complex woman and important author, which showcases Leduc’s raw and uncensored voice of the modern woman.