Above: Sandrine Kiberlain as Simone de Beauvoir and Emmanuelle Devos as Violette LeDuc in the 2013 French film VIOLETTE
On a frigid Sunday afternoon, I settled in with a pot of tea to watch VIOLETTE, a 2013 film about the French writer Violette DeDuc, her relationship with Simone de Beauvoir, and her writing which brought female sexuality and eroticism out from the shadows.
Born a bastard, hated and manipulated by her mother, and self-described as "ugly", Violette works as a smuggler and purveyor of hard-to-get foodstuffs as World War II winds down. Frustrated in her relationship with a man who finds her sexually repulsive (he's gay, actually), Violette pours her passion into writing a novel: L'Asphyxie ('In the Prison of Her Skin'). She seeks out Simone de Beauvoir and leaves a huge bouquet of flowers at her doorway; a few days later, she is back at de Beauvoir's flat where she hands her a manuscript of L'Asphyxie. de Beauvoir is very much taken with LeDuc's writing and prevails on Albert Camus to publish the novel for Éditions Gallimard; the book was praised by Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Cocteau, and Jean Genet.
Above: Sandrine Kiberlain as Simone and Emmanuelle Devos as Violette
Meanwhile, Violette has fallen in love with de Beauvoir; Simone advises the fledgling novelist to channel her infatuation and sexual desires into her writing. LeDuc's novel Ravages had to be heavily edited to remove sexually explicit passages describing lesbianism; the censored parts were later published as a separate novella, Thérèse and Isabelle. Her next novel, Le Taxi, caused yet another controversy because of its pages describing an incestuous relationship between a brother and sister.
Above: Sandrine Kiberlain as Simone de Beauvoir
de Beauvoir helped LeDuc thru bouts of depression and destructive self-pity, whilst at the same time keeping the needy Violette at arm's length. de Beauvoir arranged for a monthly stipend to keep LeDuc housed and fed while she wrote, prevailing on her friend Camus to say the money was coming from him as a pledge on LeDuc's future writing projects.
Eight more LeDuc works were published; then the author was diagnosed with breast cancer and died in 1972 at the age of 65 after two operations failed to save her. She was living in the town of Faucon, France, at the time of her death.
Martin Provost's film VIOLETTE is thoroughly engrossing; Mlle. Devos gives a splendidly courageous performance as Violette and Sandrine Kiberlain - usually seen as a blonde in her film work and in her publicity shots - goes brunette to portray the somewhat uptight but caring Simone.
A superb supporting cast has been assembled, led by Catherine Hiegel (above) as Violette's mother. The film is beautifully shot, and the soundtrack relies heavily on Arvo Pärt's atmospheric Fratres.