Director: Martin Provost
Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet, Catherine Hiegel, Jacques Bonnaffé
Written by: Martin Provost, Marc Abdelnour and René de Ceccatty
Running Time: 139 mins
Release date: 3rd October 2014
Violette is a biopic about an ordinary woman who became an extraordinary writer. Without any previous knowledge, this, on the outside, seems like a fascinating tale of a woman struggling to find an identity and an audience for her writing while having personal battles but like most other biopics, it cannot convey every element of her life and so there are times when we get a disjointed view.
Violette DeLuc is a woman, selling food on the black market just after the war. Her husband, a writer and known homosexual, encourages Violette to write, which she does. Leaving the country to head into the city, she meets Simone de Beauvoir, another writer, who is fascinated by the woman’s stories and introduces her to the literacy life, even though she struggles to earn a living. Violette finds herself falling for Simone who has no interest in her.
Not knowing who Violette DeLuc was, I had no preconceived notions of who she was or what her story was. I was familiar with some of the other writers she was introduced to but not her. So watching the story unfold of how an ordinary woman, who regarded herself as ugly and a bastard and who became a critically successful author, kept me interested throughout. Luckily director Martin Provost doesn’t deliver the usual biopic trappings; an angst-ridden writer fighting her own demons and heading for self-destruction. Instead we have a woman who had to turn to crime to make ends meet, a woman who has spent a lifetime lying, who craves something more than what her life had to offer.
Violette’s obsession with Simone, for example, is brilliantly handled, sparking question after question. Was she in love with her? Was she looking for someone to give her recognition that she never received from anyone else or was she simply looking for a replacement from a mother who never gave her the time of day?
Played out in seven chapters, you do find yourself wondering what was truth, what was fiction and what was omitted? One of the flaws of biopics are the time restrains. to fully appreciate the life of a truly remarkable person, you need to dedicate longer than a feature can offer and in the process you find information missing. An example of not completing the picture, Violette is sent to an asylum after a breakdown, yet it isn’t explained why or what triggered the illness that led to her admission.
Having said that, Violette is still a fascinating, beautifully shot and well crafted tale, aided by some superb performances. Emmanuelle Devos is magnificent in the title role. She brings an air of confidence and strength while displaying a vulnerability and quiet uncertainty, especially about her talents as a writer. it is a deliciously realised performance that dominates the screen. Sandrine Kiterlain as Simone is a perfect opposite to Violette, a controlled, restrained sense of arrogance which confused and frustrated Violette. It is a perfect companion to Devos’s lead.
Provost’s film is visually enticing and crammed with class and sophistication. The power of a good biopic is the longing to learn more about the main protagonist. I certainly wanted to know more.