Dra­matic vignettes of im­pos­si­ble love

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

VI­O­LETTE Di­rected by Martin Provost Star­ring Em­manuelle Devos, San­drine Kiber­lain, Olivier Gourmet, Cather­ine Hiegel Club, IFI, Dublin, 139 min

The bi­sex­ual nov­el­ist and mem­oirist Vi­o­lette Le­duc was born in 1907, the il­le­git­i­mate off­spring of a maid and her em­ployer. Le­doc’s ed­u­ca­tion was in­ter­rupted by the first World War, but she even­tu­ally re­turned to board­ing school where she had sev­eral les­bian af­fairs, in­clud­ing one with a mu­sic teacher who was fired for it. Hav­ing failed her bac­calau­re­ate exam, Le­doc be­came a proof-reader for a pub­lish­ing house and by 1932 had made friends with the au­thor Mau­rice Sachs, who en­cour­aged her to write. A man­u­script for her first novel, L’As­phyxie (In the Prison of Her Skin), was picked up by Si­mone de Beau­voir, who be­came her men­tor. As with Sachs, Le­doc be­came ob­sessed with de Beau­voir. She came to oc­cupy a role: de Beau­voir’s tor­tured “im­pos­si­ble love”, a les­bian ri­poste to Jean-Paul Sartre’s ill-de­fined friend­ship with Jean Genet.

Le­doc had fans – in­clud­ing Genet and Al­bert Ca­mus – but no fil­ters, an as­pect that is cap­tured beau­ti­fully by Em­mauelle Devos’ storm­ing per­for­mance at the heart of this biopic. She bel­lows. She cries. She blames. She pleads. San­drine Kiber­lain’s brit­tle de Beau­voir re­mains un­moved, at least on the out­side.

Chart­ing Le­doc’s life from the sec­ond World War un­til the pub­li­ca­tion of the best­selling La Bâ­tarde in 1964, Martin Provost’s film breaks down her life into dra­matic, em­blem­atic vignettes. Oc­ca­sion­ally, there are symp­toms of “biog­ra­phy syn­drome”, wherein character in­tro­duc­tions hap­pen with blurbs at­tached. Con­versely, there are episodes that don’t con­tex­tu­alise enough for the unini­ti­ated.

One couldn’t claim that the story is as per­sua­sive, neat or punchy as the scaf­fold­ing for the same di­rec­tor’s great 2008 art biopic Séraphine. But per­haps it’s only right that the film lacks a nar­ra­tive through road. As with its sub­ject, Vi­o­lette re­fuses to con­form to a neat pat­tern or cat­e­gory. It is, rather, Devos’ emo­tional py­rotech­nics and Kiber­lain’s slow thaw that hold the movie to­gether.

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