If you can get through the first 30 minutes of Violette, you’ll be rewarded with another 105 minutes of much of the same self-hatred and sexual obsession, but it somehow becomes more palatable. The early scenes, as Violette Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos) hides away with Maurice Sachs (Olivier Py), are so fraught with tension—brush up on your World War II knowledge—bad vibes and screaming that they’re difficult to watch.
Once you’ve acclimated and Sachs is in a German prison, the movie gets easier, even if Violette does not. At least she comes by her hard personality honestly: She’s a bastard who feels unloved, and she feels like a second-class citizen in a French society that doesn’t value women.
She begins writing (at first at Sachs’ insistence) and before long is a critical darling, even if material success is a long way off. Her relationship with Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain, who wisely underplays) makes up most of the narrative, with drop-ins by Jean Genet and Jacques Guérin.
Another strength is the screenplay, by Marc Abdelnour, René de Ceccatty and director Martin Provost, which doesn’t go the way of traditional biopics, but plays out like high drama, where the drama derives from an ordinary, extraordinary life.
Directed by Martin Provost
With Devos, Kiberlain, and Olivier Gourmet
Jean Cocteau Cinema