With a feminist ideology seeping into the wider, public conscience at present, it’s intriguing to go back to a revolutionary time in the movement, in French director Martin Provost’s intriguing biopic Violette – studying the life of pioneering author Violette Leduc – where an existentialist viewpoint helped to alter a general mindset in the Western world. Yet it’s just one of many themes explored, as similarly to one of the filmmaker’s previous endeavours, Séraphine, Provost ambitiously expands his tale across decades to give us a substantial look into a changing society through the eyes of one, influential protagonist.
Emmanuelle Devos plays the eponymous lead, who sets off for Saint-Germain-des-Prés following an invidious break-up with her gay husband and writer Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py). It is there she meets fellow author and feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain), who she develops feelings for. However as her advances are spurned, Violette spirals into a state of self-loathing, where she analyses a tumultuous childhood with her mother (Catherine Hiegel) and a distinct lack of love in her life – all the while using these intimate episodes as inspiration for her writing, as she becomes a widely regarded and inspiring female voice, in a male dominated arena.
Violette is an intense portrayal of this one woman, with barely a scene that goes by where the camera isn’t studiously lingering on our protagonist, with Devos offering a stunning, sincere turn. It’s the volatility of this author which allows for the piece to maintain its vigour, as she’s unpredictable, self-abasing and neurotic, while she strugglers with an innate, somewhat pernicious sexual desire that provides a tension that exists throughout. Provost is not afraid to portray her in such a way either, never glossing over the imperfections to her demeanour as many biopics can be accused of doing.
The picture does enter into a bout of tedium towards the latter stages, as the gruelling running time starts to take its toll – yet with such a fascinating character at the heart of this tale, and the way her life story works by way of a catalyst into a post-war France that was always changing, ensures that Provost can still hold down his record of making triumphant biopics of important and innovative creative minds from the first half of the 20th century. A change of pace for his next endeavour would certainly be welcomed, however.