“Violette” is the kind of film in which you can almost smell the characters’ perfume; a literate, leisurely and lovely telling of one woman’s attempt to find what Virginia Woolf famously called “a room of one’s own.” It’s an impressionist biopic about Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos), a French novelist whose first book was published shortly after World War II. In the hands of director Martin Provost, “Violette” unfolds like a novel; divided into numbered and titled chapters and adding up to a satisfying whole.
Born illegitimate and raised in poverty, Devos’ Violette seems to have always simmered with stories to tell. In Paris during the war, she met the writer/philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain), who encouraged her to write — and with whom Violette fell instantly, shatteringly in love, of the unrequited variety. The relationship between the two of them becomes a central thread of the film: passionate Violette’s desperate, tempestuous yearning; cool Simone, a slender, elegant question mark of a woman, reflecting back that love without returning it. “Take up your pen; that’s how you change things,” she advises Violette — which turns out, in time, to be good advice.
The film immerses us in the literary life of midcentury Paris (dinner with Sartre, we learn, generally involves “too much to drink”), but keeps its gaze on Violette, who lives in a cramped apartment where the floral wallpaper seems to be taking hold like a fast-growing vine. It’s a pleasure to watch Devos immerse herself in this character and her words (we hear little of Leduc’s work, but the line “I inhale the night under the collar of her dress” is tantalizing), and to finally find serenity in the sunshine of a quiet town watched over by a majestic mountain. As with all the best biopics, “Violette” leaves you wanting to know more about its heroine; a writer who, we’re told, enticingly “blended real life and dream life.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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