Thursday, June 12, 2014

Martin Provost tackles his second creative French woman of time past, and Emmanuelle Devos triumphs in the lead role of VIOLETTE

He's back with the broads. That is to say: one of France's very fine filmmakers, Martin Provost, is again doing what it appears he does best -- tackling a tale of an artistic and talented French woman who was not conventionally beautiful or possessing many social skills who nonetheless managed to create a collection of exemplary and important work. He did this first five years ago with his award-winning film Séraphine, about the turn-of-the-century painter Séraphine Louis, which introduced many of us to the amazing actress, Yolande Moreau. Now he is back with VIOLETTE, a movie about the famous/infamous French writer and bastard (literally), Violette Leduc, with the well-known French actress, Emmanuelle Devos, in what is, so far, the performance of her exceptional career.

In between time, Provost, shown at left, gave us another interesting movie starring Ms Moreau as a woman who murders her abusive husband and then goes on the lam. It was quite well done. Still, viewing the results of his two films about creative and unusual historic French women, one must say that this seems to be his "perfect fit." His new film begins with a quote by Leduc regarding women, beauty and mortal sin-- a sad but generally truthful observation, so far as humanity as we know it appears to believe and behave.

I confess to having found Ms Devos (above and below, right), over the years that I've viewed her in film after film, to be an alternately enchanting and glamorous entity, filled with a vast reservoir of emotion, intellect and possibilites. From a small role in La Sentinelle to the deaf girl in love (Read My Lips) to the famous actress who gives Coco Chanel her first design opportunity in Coco Before Chanel to that wonderful interloper in a tight-knit dysfunctional family in A Christmas Tale to the mayor of a town that is the target of a major scam (In the Beginning: click and scroll down) to a very surprised mother overflowing with love in The Other Son, she was generally exotic and beautiful even -- maybe particularly -- when she wasn't trying.

Suddenly, here she is, portraying a lower class woman so needy that she utterly embarrases us -- though not herself -- as she grasps to keep a clearly unworthy man (Olivier Py, above, left) as part of her life.

Devos so absolutely inhabits and defines this woman that it's as though we're seeing the actress for the first time (maybe, indeed, we are). In any case, she has found depth and characteristics here -- not to mention an appearance that removes any trace of glamour -- that I have never seen in her previously.

The film deals in large part with her relationship with the much more famous, intelligent and celebrated woman, Simone de Beauvoir, here played by Sandrine Kiberlain (below, left). I have seen de Beauvoir depicted on film before, but never as well as Kiberlain manages it. This is the Simone to remember.

We watch, entranced, as Violette, under the guidance of de Beauvoir, learns how to free herself in order to simply write and do it honestlyWhich she does, and very well. And this begins to free her to live. Along the way, via de Beauvoir, we meet a number of other famous French entities -- from Jean Genet (Jacques Bonnaffé, below, left -- good choice!) and Jacques Guérin (Olivier Gourmet, below, right, giving another fine performance).

The film begins toward the end of WWII, when Violette is dealing on the Black Market, and moves ahead from there, showing a very well-detailed and awfully drab France of the post-war period. (A scene is which Violette scraps maggots off a slab of meat and then washes it and gives it to her not-so-beloved mother to cook is one for the books.)

Provost has divided his film into sections (six or seven of them, I believe) that deal with people or subjects most important to Violette. An intelligent filmmaker, he has really looked into the period and the people, the behavior and culture, in about as encompassing a manner as one can manage within the film's 138-minute running time. Smartly, he has left the heavy-lifting, emotionally-speaking, to Devos, who comes through in spades. She keeps us glued -- embarrassed, hopeful, surprised, devastated, and thrilled from first to last -- bringing the woman, Violette, to grand life and making Violette the movie a must-see experience.

From Adopt Films, Provost's latest opens tomorrow in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. It will expand to the boroughs and elsewhere in New York the following Friday, June 20, and then hit the Los Angeles area on June 27 as it rolls out across the country in a limited release. You can view currently scheduled play-dates by first clicking here then clicking on View Theaters and Showtimes.

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