Martin Provost's sophisticated biopic stars Emmanuelle Devos as Violette Leduc
Whilst emerging from a wartime career as a black marketeer into writing uninhibited autobiographical fiction, Leduc had intense and troubled relationships with a variety of men and women; most notably, and centrally for this film, her friend and literary mentor Simone de Beauvoir, played here by Sandrine Kiberlain. In the course of a friendship that makes Violette’s writing reputation and breaks her heart, de Beauvoir gets Violette’s first novel published, connects her with the likes of Albert Camus and Jean Genet, inspires her to write frankly about her chequered sex life, and wins her unrequited love.
Rarely is a female friendship granted such deep and delicious complexity onscreen. The hysterical pitch at which Violette exists will test the patience of some viewers, not for nothing do her friends continually pick her up on her drama queen tendencies. The film also has a touch of the awkward namedropping quality that tends to afflict stories featuring very famous characters ('Do you have a title for it?' 'I’m not sure yet…The Second Sex, perhaps…'). But Devos avoids shrieky caricature to give a nuanced and subtle portrayal of a woman who lives at the mercy of her feelings; the visual palette and wardrobe are magnificently judged; and as the steely, charismatic de Beauvoir, Kiberlain gives a masterclass in how to portray an icon without caricature or overstatement.
Delicately balanced, sophisticated and unashamed of its clever context, Martin Provost's fifth film is a must for anyone with a specific interest in the literary and philosophical star system of post-war Paris. However it’s by no means dry, and will also appeal to anyone who likes their costume drama grown-up, sexy and psychologically acute.
Limited release from Fri 3 Oct.