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Violette (1978) – DVD Review

Violette DVD cover


Written by: Odile Barski, Hervé Bromberger, Jean-Marie Fritere, Frédéric Grendel
Directed by: Claude Chabrol
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Stéphane Audran, Jean Carmet

Released by: Koch Lorber Films
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A, 1.33:1 Full Frame

My Advice: Rent it if you’re desperate for French cinema

Violette (Huppert) seems to be a young daughter of a middle class family (Audran and Carmet) who goes to school and hopefully will marry a professional man. She also seems to be a sexually aggressive vamp who drinks in bars, has sex for money and is a pathological liar. Her parents are either well-meaning people who are trying to raise their sociopath daughter right or they are clueless saps who are stifling her with their bourgeoisie hypocrisy. Which version is true? Are they both true? These questions gain more urgency when Violette commits murder and her life depends on which version the court and the public believes. The problem is Violette can’t answer these questions for herself.

[ad#longpost]I know what you’re thinking. It’s a French film, so it must be pretentious and weird. Especially when it is directed by Claude Chabrol, a member of the French New Wave film movement. But not to worry, the story is pretty straightforward and there is no excessive symbolism to translate. Still, it is quite stylized with dialogue–all dripping with portent–and a fair amount of flashbacks to fill in the gaps. It’s not overdone but Chabrol can’t resist putting cinematic flourishes onto a true crime story.

You follow Violette as she goes from her claustrophobic but safe home life to the open but dangerous streets and hotels rooms of Paris. What’s sad is that she cannot fully escape her home life but she really isn’t happy running around the Latin Quarter either. Even when her clueless parents make love in the next room while Violette can hear every word, the cramped apartment is still home and the money she steals from her parents doesn’t hurt either. Her parents are so far in denial that when they find out that Violette has syphilis, they buy her excuse that she inherited it from them.

Of course, Violette has the same problem. You can feel the aching need Violette has for something. Booze, sex, thrills are momentary distractions. She falls for a gigolo but this sours when she cannot support him but she soon tires of his love of her expensive gifts, not her. She doesn’t look to herself for what’s wrong, instead she’s always looking for something else to fill the emotional hole in her soul. In the end, she is burnt out. She is reduced to rage and despair. Her life is tragedy.

Isabelle Huppert in Violette

I wish there was some special features detailing the life of Chabrol or actress Isabelle Huppert. This DVD was definitely done on the cheap. The print used is washed out and grainy. It is presented in 4:3 aspect ratio. I cannot find out if that is the original ratio, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is another shortcut. So unless you are desperate for some French cinema that is not too confounding, I would skip Violette.

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