Picturehouse office manager Frances Taylor reviews this week’s Discover Tuesdays presentation of biographical drama VIOLETTE.
The road to literary greatness has never looked more redemptive or dramatic than it does in VIOLETTE, the biopic of Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos), a Prix Goncourt-winning author and protégée of Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain, THE BIRD).
In the midst of World War II, Violette is living in a sham marriage in the safety of the countryside. She works on the black market, and encouraged by her husband, has begun to write.
Later, living in Paris, Violette stalks her new literary heroine Simone de Beauvoir, thrusting flowers, feelings and her first manuscript at her. Luckily for Violette, de Beauvoir likes what she reads and takes Violette under her authorial wing.
The relationship between Violette and Simone is complex, sometimes fraught, and unequal. Violette harbours affections that Simone does not reciprocate, and she resents Simone’s successes, feeling a melodramatic a mount of self-pity and jealousy. Behind Violette’s wailing, Simone sees literary greatness, but we’re left wondering what exactly her motives might be.
Kiberlain gives nothing away – as Simone she’s tightly controlled, brusque and thinks exclusively with the head rather than the heart. Violette seems the opposite: although she’s undoubtedly intelligent, she’s outwardly much more emotional, to the point of hysteria.
Violette is a difficult character, and the crosses she bears become ours too as we watch. If she must suffer to create her magnum opus, then she’s intent on taking others down with her. She is embittered by life, and insists on making sure everyone around her knows how much she has suffered.
But without the pain of lost lovers, abandonment by friends and her own illegitimacy, Violette perhaps would never have been able to write such daring, affecting work. Her redemption comes through her creativity; the process of writing is a catharsis for her tumult and leads to acceptance into the upper echelons of the Parisian literary scene, which assuages her insecurities.
Devos plays Violette with fortitude, elevating her to a woman who amounts to much more than her flaws, so that the audience is able to see the spark that Simone does.