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Violette - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B-
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

You don't see a whole lot of movies about middle-aged bisexual women in mid-20th-century France, so Violette has that going for it. It also turns out to be a biographical film about real-life French novelist Violette Leduc. If you are not familiar with Leduc, as I wasn't, then this will mean little; so far as this film seems concerned, the woman was overbearingly self-loathing, petulant to the last, or at least until she eventually found literary success. How anyone thought such a person would make a sympathetic protagonist is a mystery.

To be fair, Emmanuelle Devos plays her competently. The same can be said of all the actors here, including Sandrine Kiberlain as Simone de Beauvoir, the unrequited lifelong object of Violette's abject affections. Simone never embraces Violette as a lover, yet she spends years secretly supporting her in ways far beyond her obligations. These are some compelling emotional complexities, albeit none presented with the flair that gets the attention of the Academy Awards.

Violette may very well play differently in France, and it is indeed getting strong reviews nearly across the board even in the U.S., but neither of these facts are in touch with the sensibilities of American audiences -- not even those of us who happily see foreign films with frequency. There is nothing inherently flawed about Violette beyond the gratingly self-abasing nature of its main character, but truthfully it's still ultimately forgettable. I will hardly remember it tomorrow. I can't imagine the others in the screening I attended will either, given that their average age appeared to be about 70.

If only Violette weren't so constantly whiny that you want to slap her, the more fascinating elements of her character might warrant more attention. She's a dynamic character, at the very least, and bisexuals who themselves complain about comparative invisibility should be pleased by her very existence.

Violette openly admits to liking both men and women. More specifically, she'll find members of either sex to obsess over, to her own detriment. In the opening sequence, it is near the end of World War II and she is in a pretend-marriage with a gay man. He is clearly honest with her about his sexuality, and still she pleads with him to offer her sexual gratification. She does this yet again years later with another gay man. Violette seems to half a self-destructive thing for gay men.

But she does the same with women, particularly Simone, the successful writer who hooks Violette up with publishers and, in subtle ways, strings Violette on emotionally for many years. Simone is not the first, however, to encourage Violette to write; that firs husband does the same. Violette is as much about the woman as a writer as it is about the woman finding a way to express her sexuality in unprecedented ways. But for many years, she really only ever seems to write in order to please and appease those she's pining for. The fact that her writing is apparently very good is incidental.

And through it all, Violette is incapable of expressing gratitude rather than bitter loneliness. She internalizes her own status as an illegitimate child, and resents her own mother -- and oppressively constant and codependent presence -- for not aborting her. "Nobody wants me," she says, many times. Oh, shut up. This would be easier to sympathize with if she were a young woman, but most of this story concerns Violette in her forties and later, when experience and life itself -- including several people far more supportive of her than she deserved -- somehow failed to alter this ridiculous behavior.

So: Violette is a relatively well-made movie about a woman I would not recommend anyone spend time with.

Emmanuelle Devos annoyingly pines for Sandrine Kiberlain in VIOLETTE.

Overall: B-
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