Last night at the BFI London Film Festival I saw Violette, the new movie from Martin Provost that explores the life of groundbreaking feminist writer Violette Leduc. Played with passion and charm by actress Emmanuelle Devos, the film is structured in chapters. Each one explores her relationship with various people and how they helped her on her way to discovering her writer’s voice. Moving on from trading on the black market and pining for the love of a gay man, she starts writing as an outlet for all her energy and emotion. She introduces herself to Simone de Beauvoir by thrusting a book she’s written in her hands and Beauvoir responds encouragingly to Leduc’s brutally honest female perspective and poetic talent. Acting as mentor to Leduc, Beauvoir introduces her to a publisher as well as influential writers and artists of the time like Jean Genet. It’s a fascinating look at an intellectual relationship which transforms slowly over the time with Leduc falling passionately in love with Beauvoir – which is unrequited. Gradually they develop a mutual respect for each other and have a guarded companionship based on a shared desire to progress feminist ideas. Leduc is portrayed so sympathetically as someone pining desperately for love and validation. It’s admirable that Beauvoir didn’t just dismiss these turbulent emotions, but helped direct Leduc into pouring her passion into writing. Actress Sandrine Kiberlain beautifully plays Beauvoir as a woman with austere grace and intelligent determination.
Martin Provost’s equally brilliant previous film Seraphine also focused on the life of a marginal visionary artist who is not now as well known as she was at one time. Both films are excellent and well worth seeking out. I only briefly remember Violette Leduc being referenced from reading I’ve done in the past, but I’d now love to seek out translations of her work and explore this fascinating original voice.