Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TIFF 2013: Violette

De Beauvoir and Leduc (Emmanuelle Devos)
Violette (France, 2013) directed by Martin Provost, 139 minutes, Scotiabank 14, 9a

Violette Leduc, contemporary of de Beauvoir, Genet, Sartre, Camus, is a writer should likely have greater literary recognition than she does today amongst feminist and/or progressive thinkers. 

Beginning in the early 1940s in France, the film is structured into a half dozen or so subsections that detail Leduc's relationships with some of the greats of French letters in the mid 20th c. The sections include: Maurice Sachs, a
first love; literary greats Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Genet; her mother; a rich benefactor; and, finally the place she comes to finally find peace in as a woman and as a writer. 

Born out of wedlock to a mother Violette (Emmanuelle Devos) feels did not show her love and a father who promptly vanishes, this becomes the formative experi
ence of her life. In her mind she is forever the loveless bastard with no protectors.

With an unfortunate tendency to fall in love with homosexual men who have absolutely no physical desire for women, or, conversely, for women who do not reciprocate her feelings of attraction, Leduc lurches from one disastrous emotional and sexual relationship to the next, either real or imagined. When a man with whom she has a tenuous relationship advises her to channel her great passions into writing instead of himself, the result of her labours is astonishing both to Violette and to de Beauvoir, a virtual if much admired stranger, to whom she tremulously submits her work entitled L'Asphyxie (In the Prison of Her Skin), published in 1946. 

de Beauvoir is bowled over by the intensity of her personal and highly explosive writing and helps Leduc get her first book published through her own publisher. Leduc, ever the wounded and abandoned child, falls for de Beauvoir who does not return her love although de Beauvoir does devote her energies as a writer to promoting Leduc's work, helping to nurse her through her eventual breakdown, incapacitation and even surreptitiously paying her a stipend through their mutual publisher so that Leduc may continue to write. And write she does ... L'affamée (1948), Ravages (1955), La Bâtarde (1964) and many more.
Through de Beauvoir, Leduc meets Sartre, Camus and Genet and important contacts with money and connections. Her work, while initially ignored by the critics and a wider public at large, eventually gains recognition in the 1960s where she is met with a greater acclaim and respect perhaps due to a greater feminist consciousness at that time.

Leduc's work, which might be perceived as not particularly shocking now, was seen as transgressive and disturbing: stories about being illegitimate, her abortion and troubled first marriage to a man, her bisexuality, her sexual relationship with a fellow boarding school student as a young girl - all were perceived as too risque to be put in print by her publishers initially. But as the character of de Beauvoir rightly pointed out in the film, Genet's work was hailed as genius and fit for public consumption despite its transgressive nature, Leduc's often was not.

Even when her work met with acclaim and offers of assistance Leduc's reaction was inevitably hostile, needy and annoying to those who cared for her. She could not shake the fear that she was unloved and unlovable, unattractive, undesirable.

It is a relief for the film goer after witnessing Leduc's various travails to learn that eventually she achieved some fame as a writer in the 1960s, came to have a home in Provence and a regular income and to find some affection and love even if it was with a married man.

No comments: