Out of desperation comes creative chaos in ‘Violette’

A woman rushes in the dark, walking in her skirt and coat, holding a suitcase in her hand. We don’t who she is. We don’t know where’s she’s been. We don’t know where’s she’s going. But she is caught. The suitcase is opened.

What’s in it? Drugs? Stolen jewelry? Secret documents?

The suitcase is filled with meat. Cuts of meat and sausages. World War II France has a thriving black market and Violette (Emmanuelle Devos) actively buys and sells the meat. She returns to the home where she’s staying. The man gruffly greets her. She pays what she can for the rent and then goes upstairs to a man Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py).  They pretend to be a couple, but Maurice is gay and isn’t interested in the desperate love that Violette offers. She goes outside to wash herself in the open air.  They are in the country, but Violette and Maurice don’t seem to enjoy the pastoral delights of the scenery.

Maurice encourages Violette to write and she does. She doesn’t write about love; she writes about misery. Ever hopeful, she’s drowning in anxiety, clutching at Maurice who sneaks away. Still as he’s running away, mouthing false promises, she wants and she howls with despair.

Violette is a survivor. She finds her way back to Paris where she lives alone in an apartment. The meat she sells might need a bit of cleaning or must be boiled in hopes of killing all the germs and pest. However, the black market is closing down and Maurice has been arrested. Violette doesn’t pause, though she does notice a book by someone who will take Maurice’s place in both her desperate heart and her literary life: Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain).

Director Marvin Provost creates a handsome study of a woman troubled by the lack of love in her life, from the father who denied his fatherhood, to the mother (Catherine Hiegel) who would never hold her hand and was constantly looking for a man to latch on to, to the men and women who would rather mentor her than be her lover. She is portrayed as tormented by her illegitimate birth.

Yet her misery becomes her literary merchandise and not all of it was legal. Her first novel “L’Asphyxie” (In the Prison of her Skin) was published by Albert Camus in 1946. Her 1955 novel “Ravages” was censored, but the removed sections about lesbianism would later be published in another novel. Violette Leduc is best known for her 1964 best-selling memoir, “La Bâtarde.” Finally, Violette finds love in a public that embraces her.

“Violette” doesn’t directly depict the war or the Occupation. It jumps forward to essential incidents in her life and doesn’t make Violette pretty or nice. Yet we feel her desperation; we see the troubling class differences, her crassness and attempts to find style in a city that worships it.

“Violette” opens in  Los Angeles on the 27 June 2014. It won a special mention award for Emmanuelle Devos at the Haifa International Film Festival. In French with English subtitles.

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