Director: Martin Provost | 132 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet, Catherine Hiegel, Jacques Bonnaffé, Olivier Py, Nathalie Richard, Stanley Weber, Jean Toscan, Frans Boyer, Nicole Colchat, Fabrizio Rongione, Erwan Creignou, Vincent Schmitt, Jean-Paul Dubois, Paulette Frantz, Valérie Kéruzoré, Sylvie Jobert, Thierry Nenez
You will only have such a friend. France, 1942. One day writer Maurice Sachs was so fed up with Violette Leduc’s wailing that he ordered her to sit under the apple tree armed with pen, notebook and basket and write down everything she wanted to tell him. It turned out to be a golden tip from the gay author, who pretended to be married with Violette for a while, because once she tasted the satisfaction of the writing, she couldn’t stop. When their ways parted, Violette retreated to Paris. Maurice died in obscure circumstances during the Second World War. After reading Simone De Beauvoir’s debut novel (“L’invitée”), Violette decided to let this ex-teacher read her now completed manuscript. Simone was impressed and saw to it that Violette Leduc’s “L’asphyxie” was born in 1946. Contrary to Violet’s expectations, however, the book was not a success.
The French filmmaker Martin Provost previously made “Séraphine”, filming the difficult life of the talented painter Séraphine de Senlis. In addition to the César for best film in 2009, the film received six other awards at the French Oscars. With Violette Leduc, Martin Provost has another interesting subject for a biopic. The writer is not very well known to the general public, which, however, will know names like Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Genet, people with whom the writer associated.
However, Provost’s film is mainly about Violette, and luckily her character is fascinating enough for a biopic of more than two hours. We grapple with Violette in her battle for recognition, for love, for sexual pleasure (whether from men or women – Violette was bisexual), to make ends meet and – after all, that is where it starts – self-acceptance and self-confidence. Violette felt ugly and not belonging anywhere. Emmanuelle Devos deserves a thunderous round of applause for her portrayal of the title character. With a single flicker of her eyelids she acts all the tiles of the roof. Thanks to her passionate acting, she knows how to effortlessly convey the writer’s emotions to the viewer.
But Sandrine Kiberlain is just as fantastic as Simone de Beauvoir, the woman without whom no one would have ever heard of Violette Leduc. Serious, businesslike, but oh so attractive and passionate about her work and Violette’s talent. It is no wonder that Violette falls in love with her. The third major female role is for Catherine Hiegel, who plays Berthe Leduc, Violet’s mother. The relationship between the two women is told in a sophisticated way. Violette was a bastard, her mother became unwittingly pregnant when the son of an employer seduced her. The baby was not recognized by the father. That false start left a mark on Violet’s life. Hiegel also portrays her character formidably. Olivier Gourmet (as Jacques Guérin) and Jacques Bonnaffé (as Jean Genet) impressed by the male cast.
In “Violette” the viewer is immersed in the world of France – and especially Paris – of the 1940s and 1950s. The sets are beautiful, Violette’s austere, untidy apartment almost looks like a museum piece that has been preserved in its original state. The work of the costume design department should also not go unmentioned. The fact that Yves Cape was responsible for the cinematography is more than a plus, the Belgian really delivers a picture of a film. The story is compelling and leaves the viewer in constant suspense about the course of the history of this frustrated writer, whose groundbreaking work eventually received much-deserved appreciation with her autobiography La bâtarde in 1964. Highly recommended for everyone, but an absolute must-see for literature lovers, France freaks and biography enthusiasts. There is a good chance that you will scour the library, bookstore or internet afterwards in search of novels by Violette Leduc.