Friday 6 December 2019

AO'C

Violette No cert

Violette Leduc was born in France in 1907, the illegitimate daughter of a house maid, a shame which shaped the rest of her life. Lacking in self-esteem and emotional stability, her first major love affair was with a girl in boarding school, then there was a bad marriage and unwanted pregnancy and then a relationship with writer Maurice Sachs. Co-writer and director Martin Provost (who made the lovely Seraphine) begins his telling of Violette's story during her sojourn with Sachs (Olivier Py) in rural France.

They are keeping away from Nazi-occupied Paris, Sachs is still in the closet something that Violette (Emmanuelle Devos) takes personally, his one gift to her, before he runs away, is to encourage her to write.

Back in Paris after the war, Violette makes a living in the black market and when she finishes her autobiography she submits it to Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain). De Beauvoir becomes a champion, believing that Leduc has a unique voice in French literature and a previously unseen honesty that tallies very much with her own vision for the Second Sex.

Provost divides the story into chapters, each one based on an important figure in Violette's jumbled life. The major figures of French 20th-Century literature drift in and out, on- and off-screen, but the star is Violette. Passionate, bolshie, stubborn, fragile and gifted with an extraordinary vision, it was not easy for her to fit in, and although this bothered her she did not really try. There have been some great roles for women in French cinema of late - this is another, and Devos rises to the occasion impressively. The barely recognisable Kiberlaine is also excellent as de Beauvoir.

The film covers 20 years of Leduc's life. It takes over two hours to do so and while requiring an investment from the audience, it is full-on without being emotionally draining and is a remarkable character study of a woman coming to terms with herself.

AO'C

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