Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Violette [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R) (4 stars) (3 1/2 Stars) (3 Stars)  LeMonde (3 Stars)  NYTimes (4 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (F. Mignard) review* (A. Schwartz) review* (N. Marcadé) review* (F. Nouchi) review*

NYTimes (M. Dargis) review
Variety (S. Foundas) review
Slant (D.L. Dallas) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

Violette [2013] [IMDb] []* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Martin Provost [IMDb] []*, along with Marc Abdelnour [IMDb] []* and René de Ceccatty [IMDb] []*) is a biopic about the literary career of tormented post-WW II French feminist and bisexual author Violette Leduc (1907-1972)[en.wikip] [fr.wikip]*.  The film played recently as at the 2014 Chicago French Film Festival held at Chicago's Music Box Theater a festival cosponsored by the French Diplomatic Mission to the United States.  The film is now available for streaming (subtitled) on Amazon Instant Video.

The story of Violette Leduc (1907-1972)[en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* (played in the film by Emmanuelle Devos [IMDb] []*) may initially surprise the Catholic blog reader.  After all, what could a rather obscure (to an American audience) French woman "of questionable morals" possibly teach us?  A French woman born at the turn of the 20th century, unwanted, to a servant girl out of wedlock, whose first experience of love of any kind occurred between her and a classmate at an all-girls' boarding school where she was sent to hide her (apparently of some means) father's shame ... a school from which she, of course, was subsequently expelled, for said "first experience of teenage (in her situation, necessarily lesbian...) love," and who despite her obvious parental issues and sexual heterodoxy (while never seeing anything to be necessarily wrong with lesbianism, she always understood herself to be bisexual) blamed her extended, life-long bouts with loneliness on her "ugliness."  She claimed, "The only truly mortal sin for a woman is to be ugly, everything else can be forgiven."

After reading THAT introduction, I do believe that any adult of compassion would understand why hers was a story deserved to be told (and deserves to be reflected on).

Indeed, though throughout her life NOBODY apparently really liked her, including her gay faux-husband, writer Maurice Sachs (played in the film by Olivier Py [IMDb] []*) and her perhaps closest confidante, a fellow feminist writer (and existentialist philosopherSimone de Beauvoir [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* (played in the film by Sandrine Kiberlain [IMDb] []*).   Both did encourage her to write, even as BOTH kept themselves at arm-length distance from her: Violette married Maurice TO PROTECT HIM from the gay-persecuting Nazis.  He found her "so needy" that HE LEFT HER ANYWAY to TAKE HIS CHANCES WITH THE OCCUPYING NAZIS ... and was subsequently arrested and taken by the Nazis to work in a forced-labor detail by Hamburg, Germany where he was eventually shot.  Simone, for her part, while encouraging her and using her professional contacts (she knew Albert Camus [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* and was, for a time, Jean-Paul Sartre's [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* lover) to make her known among the intellectual community of post-WW II France, pointedly DIDN'T call Violette Leduc her _friend_ IN THE FORWARD SHE WROTE FOR VIOLETTE'S career-making book, her memoir, La Bâtarde (The Bastard) [1964].  Asked about this, Simone apparently did respond: "But I'm _not_ her friend, who really is...?"

Yet, (mild spoiler alert) Violette's finally arrived-at success did give her some means to achieve some degree of happiness EVEN IF STILL LARGELY "IN SOLITUDE": She always seemed happiest out in the country.  With the financial success of her book La Bâtarde and her books that followed, she bought a modest house in Faucune in Provence (Southern France) and lived basically (on her own) "happily ever after."  In an interview about her acquaintance and perhaps mentor (if not friend...) Violette, Simone de Beauvoir [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* did apparently say: "Perhaps no one has found salvation through writing more than she."


As I think of Violette Leduc (1907-1972) [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]*, her struggles and even her loniliness, I can not help but think of an American contemporary of hers who she probably never knew, Dorothy Day (1897-1980) [en.wikip] [fr.wikip]* who spent much of her youth in the 1920s in the American equivalent (Greenwich Village) of the intellectual circles of Paris.  Like Violette Leduc, she too had various early disappointments in life (including an abortion that she quickly regretted) and indeed when Dorothy Day wrote her own memoir, she entitled it, fascinatingly for the discussion here, The Long Loneliness (1952).  When she found herself pregnant and unmarried a second time, Dorothy Day converted to Catholicism and came to found the Catholic Worker Movement which during the Great Depression truly took care of / took in the "poorest of the poor" first in New York City and soon enough across the U.S.  (An excellent movie about this formative period of Dorothy Day's life is Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story [1996]).

While I'm positive that Dorothy Day would not have agreed with everything that Violette Leduc wrote (Dorothy Day apparently famously compared the advent of the birth control pill to the advent of the atom bomb.  Needless to say, she opposed both...), I'm also more-or-less positive that she would have understood her.

As such, while I'm positive that much of Violette Leduc's life would exasperate many Catholic readers here, I do believe that her life, her experiences and her various struggles with both self and society are worthy of consideration by people of faith.  We all see suffering people all the time.  Violette proved to be a remarkably articulate one.  As such, she gives her readers a window into her (and others') pain.  

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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