Violette

violette

DIR: Martin Provost • WRI: Martin Provost, Marc Abdelnour, René de Ceccatty  PRO: Miléna Poylo, Gilles Sacuto • DOP: Yves Cape • ED: Ludo Troch• DES: Thierry François •  MUS: Hugues Tabar-Nouval • CAST: Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet

 

Martin Provost’s Violette (2013) charts the life of French writer Violette Leduc (Emmanuel Devos) from her exile in the French countryside during World War II through to the publication of her most famous work, La Batarde, in 1964. This, like previous works by Provost, focuses on female experience and, like his 2008 film Séraphine, is a biographical portrayal of a female artist.

 

While the film is divided into chapters, the majority of which own the name of an influential person in Violette’s life, these characters appear and engage with one another throughout, and so the divisions function more as both a nod to the literary theme and as indicators of influence rather than actual defined, compartmentalised sections of the narrative.

 

Leduc’s story from birth into adulthood is one of rejection, frustration, loneliness and unrequited love. The film, while taking a forward trajectory recounting her experiences from her thirties onwards, is simultaneously retrospective as a result of Violette’s life being painfully and relentlessly influenced by her past. She begins to write her experiences down following encouragement by the infamous French writer Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py) with whom she lives in exile and trades on the black market.

 

While this appears to be the only contribution of value that Sachs makes to her life, a chance visit to one of his friends further justifies his role. This is where Violette encounters and steals Simone De Beauvoir’s novel She Came to Stay, thus prompting her to approach De Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain) with her own unpublished literary offering, and starts her on the uncertain but ultimately life-changing road to finding both herself and her place as a revered and respected author.

 

While De Beauvoir’s belief in Leduc’s talent and capacity to advance the cause of feminism through female literary endeavour sees her champion her work and induct her into esteemed intellectual circles, her attention does not extend to either an emotional or romantic attachment. This proves to be the source of much pain and anguish for Violette who is clearly in love with and highly dependent upon her mentor.

 

Indeed, De Beauvoir is portrayed as a cool, even icy character who keeps others at a distance, and whose relationship with Violette, as she perceives it, is something of an intellectual transaction whereby she has identified talent and promise, and furthers it for the good of literature and the female cause. However, Violette’s behaviour and personality perhaps make this an essential response. Indeed, during one isolated instance in which De Beauvoir breaks down and opens up, Violette quite predictably fails to offer words of comfort, instead thinking of her own feelings on the matter, and this sees DeBeauvoir revert to her former coolness. While perhaps diluting one’s perception of the purportedly strong relationship between the two women, it is easy to see why it may have been necessary for De Beauvoir to keep this difficult person close, yet at a remove.

 

Violette is a somewhat sympathetic character, but she is simultaneously portrayed as difficult, selfish, and hard to please. Her incessant hand-wringing and inability to psychologically surmount her illegitimacy, her troubled relationship with her mother, and her emotional rejection by De Beauvoir and others can prove somewhat challenging in a film of 139 minutes, especially when her life makes great strides for the better and she continues to find reasons to despair and be dissatisfied.

 

Despite her mother Berthe (Catherine Hiegel) cutting a formidable dash and holding the burden of responsibility for Violette’s low self-esteem and loveless childhood, there are occasions when she is caring and attentive to her daughter, and Violette’s inability to either acknowledge or allow herself to enjoy the maternal tenderness she has been so lacking further demonstrates her complexity and contributes to the, at times, perplexing viewing experience. When a character declares, “I’m scared of dying and sorry for being in the world”, it is difficult for the viewer to envisage any progression. However, DeBeauvoir makes her best endeavours, declaring, “Screaming and sobbing won’t get you anywhere. Writing will”.

 

If both Violette and DeBeauvoir are for the most part difficult to warm to, they are nevertheless intriguing characters who are the subject of excellent performances by both Devos and Kiberlain. In addition, there is much pleasure to be found in the beautiful exposition of both Violette’s natural surroundings and the act of writing itself. She seems to find solace in immersing herself in both, and as a result these scenes prove the most enjoyable, not only because they are visually striking, but they show an anguished character experiencing the happiness any viewer would desire for her.

 

As with any biopic, certain parts of the character’s life can only be alluded to, and Provost’s film certainly has this writer interested in learning more about its troubled protagonist and her works. If Violette can be challenging at times on account of Leduc’s outlook, and unnecessarily long at 139 minutes, its rewards lie in its visual beauty, exposition of the art of writing, and intriguing subject matter.

 

Emma Hynes

15A (See IFCO for details)

138 minutes

Violette is released 3rd October 2014

 

 

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Grand Central

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DIR: Rebecca Zlotowski • WRI: Gaëlle Macé, Rebecca Zlotowski • PRO:Frederic Jouve •  DOP George Lechaptois • ED: Julien Lacheray • DES: Antoine Platteau • CAST:Tahar Rahim, Léa Seydoux, Olivier Gourmet

For some reason I always go into French films with high expectations, I don’t know if this is due to the fact that I’ve enjoyed most of the French films I’ve seen, or whether I’ve been programmed to view European cinema as somewhat more sophisticated and nuanced than your typical Hollywood fair. Either way I entered the screening of Grand Central with high expectations, with my hand at the ready to give myself a cultural pat on the back for enjoying the film, and enjoy the film I did.

Grand Central is the second feature film from the French writer director Rebecca Zlotowski, and the film follows Gary, a young man with an implied dark past who takes up a job at a nuclear power plant in Rhone, where it becomes evident that danger lurks at almost every turn. Gary was told by an employment officer at the start of the film that this was the only viable opportunity for him to gain employment.

He joins a crew there, who seem to have built up a very close bond, as they put their safety in each other’s hands on a daily basis. Living in a trailer park with his supervisor Giles and veteran Toni, he soon starts up a love affair with Toni’s fiancée Carole. This relationship leads Gary to put his life in danger by continuing to work at the plant despite the fact that he has tested positive for high radiation levels, meaning he is knowingly  putting his health at risk to continue the affair.

Despite being a French language film a lot of the actors will be familiar to mainstream moviegoers.  Toni is played by Denis Menochet, who many of you will recognise as the farmer from the mesmerising opening scene of Inglorious Bastards, while Lea Seydoux, who plays Carole, is an-up-and-coming star of international cinema with film credits like Robin Hood,  and Mission Impossible 4 already under her belt.

There are many things to like about the film, but there’s no doubt that Seydoux’s performance is what stands out the most. She perfectly captures a confused young woman, who loves two different men in two completely different ways, so much so that we never judge her for her infidelity, as we realise there is no clear cut resolution. I have no doubt that her deep, sad eyes will continue to be forceful cinematic weapons for years to come.

Other aspects of the film that stand out, are some beautifully shot scenes that capture Karole and Gary’s  romance blossoming in the fields and woods surrounding the trailer park, representing the naturalness of their relationship in contrast to her relationship with Toni, who is considerably older than her.

Unfortunately the script is clunky, and some of the dialogue and sequences tend to stretch the boundaries of belief, particularly in regard to the relationship between Karole and Toni. I also feel that the film misses a big opportunity to make more of the tension that arises from the dangerous working conditions in the Nuclear plant.

Despite these flaws, all in all the film is well worth watching, particularly if you, like me, love to like French Cinema.

Michael Rice

94 mins

Grand Central is released on 18th July 2014

 

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