Find a dark room, light a cigarette and stick on a PJ Harvey album because the relentlessness of loneliness and poverty is confronted head on in Violette; an emotionally strenuous biopic of writer Violette Leduc. The film undresses the existence of a female artist’s life in parallel to her complex relationship with mentor, celebrated feminist Simone de Beauvoir, in the shadows of a Post-WWII world unwilling to engage with the truth of an isolated voice of raw courage, bared sensuality and stark quality.
Before her introduction into the company of giants, such as, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, in the smoky bars of the post-war literary scene, Director Martin Provost thrusts into the desolation of Leduc’s unreciprocated love in her marriage to writer Maurice Sachs that leads to an involvement in the black-market; mule-ing her work orientated husband’s egg-y contraband as a means of survival during the years of rationing.
Shots uncompromisingly display maggots being rinsed off chunks of offal dragged from battered suitcases. Surreptitious knocks and curt house visits between doors where meat and money change hands. Sounds of scrubbing white thighs with a course brush that are left to float in the muddy garden tub. Within the brown hues of their home in Northern France.
The responses to these blows result in Violette’s move to Paris where she scrawled her debut novel, Asphyxiation, about her childhood in a notebook. This leads to her finding Beauvoir whose yellow doorframe becomes a receptive window for her artistic voice and she is offered a manuscript to be published by Albert Camus.
Leduc is encouraged to pursue her writing that deals with the ‘unmentionable’ subjects of her life: a complex female sexuality and the entrapment of women in marital and family structures. The subjects of her art and her private identity develop so closely, her life provides for her art and her art makes up her life, that it becomes difficult to differentiate. Despite the relevance of her work it fails to be a commercial success and nobody reads it. Beauvoir loves her art but rejects to love her and maintains a role of teasing poise that severs Violette’s writing from her emotions. Leduc’s ex-lesbian lover refuses her partnership and her dysfunctional mother refuses to acknowledge her work. The life explored grows so isolated in the short journeys between loss of love-bed-desk-and-Beauvoir that it is hard to justify either her work or her life, as both exist but are never read.
The quality of her written voice, that embodies all of her, causes Beauvoir to state of Leduc’s works, Asphyxiation, Hunger, and Le Batarde, “It is great, it will live. Just keep writing”. Often biopics can be monotonous serialisations of life events but the screenplay in Violette deals well with its material and manages to put an audience in touch with a woman’s life that was lived intensely through her art. Keep on writing. Keep on loving.