A successful film bio meets the considerable challenge of balancing substance with style, while avoiding being salaciously foolish or boringly reverent.
"Violette" could serve as a primer on how to do the biopic right. It's an honest, staggeringly well-photographed and ferociously well-acted French film that plumbs the turbulent mind of feminist author Violette Leduc.
Never heard of her? After witnessing Emmanuelle Devos' blistering portrayal in writer/director writer Martin Provost's gripping feature you'll want to download her works.
Provost, best known for 2009's rave-winning "Seraphine," about painter Séraphine de Senlis, is carving out quite a niche for himself with his elegant portraits of talented, influential and complicated women. Avoiding the constrictions of a birth-to-death account, Provost and co-writers Marc Abdelnour and René de Ceccatty focus on the post-World War II period in Leduc's life, when she was taken under the wing of author and intellectual Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain, lacing the part with confidence and sparks of jealousy). The two women develop a bond that only intensifies, most uncontrollably -- as does just about everything else -- for Leduc, who becomes obsessed with her mentor. The public initially ignores Leduc's works, which candidly deal with issues about sexuality and views of women. Provost's film captures an on-the-cusp historic moment, when a woman wasn't encouraged to speak out about such matters, yet the need for it was growing and growing.
Provost equally goes to great lengths to make us feel where Leduc's searing writing springs from. His film doesn't sugarcoat Leduc's irritability or volatility, with Devos tapping with explosive passion into Leduc's lack of self-confidence and poor self-image. Few films have conveyed with such understanding how a creative soul taps into all that interior turmoil and then somehow shapes these thoughts into artful prose that can scald and heal. "Violette" does that and much more.
* * * ½
Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet
Director: Martin Provost
Running time: 2 hours, 18 minutes