Ever since her breakout role as a deaf office worker, Carla, in Jacques Audiard's audacious caper flick Read My Lips
, Emmanuelle Devos has risen to become one of the top French actresses of our time, working with auteur filmmakers such as Arnaud Desplechin and Alain Resnais and rubbing shoulders with Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardeu. The thing is, I can't think of another actress who made a career out of her frumpiness more successfully than Devos. And she happens to be a favorite of mine.
In Martin Provost's biopic of a post-war French writer Violette Leduc,
Devos delivers another gold-star performance, again using her arguably unremarkable physical
attributes as a weapon.
The film starts with Violette's
black market smuggler days during WWII, when she is helplessly in love with a
writer/fellow boarder, Maurice Sachs, in rural France. Even though Sachs is a closeted homosexual, lonely Violette doesn't let up throwing herself onto him. As
a way to fight off her advances, he suggests that she take up writing.
getting back to Paris and reading the writings of controversial feminist writer
Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain), Violette, forever lonely
and emotionally needy, soon becomes enamored with the famous writer. In turn, de
Beauvoir recognizes Violette's talent and encourages her to continue writing. With this encouragement, their lifelong friendship starts. Violette finds
herself in de Beauvoir's circle of famous literary friends, Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus among them. She even
finds an admirer of her work and a benevolent patron in a
sensitive perfume mogul, Jacques Guérin (Olivier Gourmet).
Her first novel, In the Prison of Her Skin
, is based on her life in an
all-girls boarding school, frankly describing her lesbian affair
with another student. (Certain parts of the book would later be adapted by sexploitation maestro Radley Metzger as Therese and Isabelle
.) Her books, all based on her life stories, were considered salacious and
scandalous at the time of their release; later she receives recognition as a trailblazer in feminist writing. She, unlike many other writers, at least
gets to taste her success during her lifetime. However
alone she may be in her private life, she gets to attain some inner peace that she very
) once again demonstrates his penchant for showcasing well-rounded female characters in his films: Violette doesn't come across as just a
hysterical, extremely self-conscious woman, and de Beauvoir, not as just a cold-fish feminist icon. With the help of strong, down to earth
performances by Kiberlain and Devos, Violette
features great, undeniably human characters. Stately photographed by Yves Cape (Holy Motors
, White Material
), the look of the film, spanning many seasons, is that of subtle elegance, and accentuates the superb acting.
Devos is, as usual, wonderful. Using her unconventional beauty and charm, she portrays a lonely woman who gets to express her insecurities and
desires truthfully in writing, regardless of its consequences. Beautifully acted
and executed, Violette
is a great biopic that has a real heart.
is scheduled to open in New York on Friday, June 13 at Lincoln Plaza
Cinema and Angelika Film Center, followed by a national release.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com
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