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Review: Violette

Maybe one hardly needs a film to see that mankind is incapable of having good sex without it revealing their other various ineptitudes.

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Violette
Photo: New Yorker Films

Claude Chabrol’s Violette gave Cinema: A Critical Dictionary editor Richard Roud the rare occasion to editorialize that a once-great French filmmaker had returned to form—which, at the time, put Chabrol in the thin company of Alain Resnais (with Providence), Chris Marker (with A Grin Without a Cat), and pretty much no one else. Violette is, if not much else, some kind of throwback. Two scenes in, and the titular femme noir (played by Isabelle Huppert with what turned out to be an inexhaustible willingness to tackle fiercely slappable characters) is clutching her jet-black fur collar to her jawbone while her freshly-bobbed girlfriend scoffs at the bespectacled bookworms fighting over socialism at the local bar. “Such bores with their politics,” giggles said friend, while Violette smirks and breaks off half of some temperamental student’s panini and asks him, “Do you want to sleep with me?” In the next scene, she’s shown wiping the slut lipstick off her mouth, hiding her stockings and walking up to meet her frumpy mother (a bravely against-type Stéphane Audran).

We’ve all been here before, and so has syphilis. But Violette doesn’t so much rejuvenate the “sex = death” equation that had been in place since Louise Brooks opened Pandora’s Box as it does struggle to remember why women want sex in the first place. If the true-life case of Miss Nozière is accurately reflected in Chabrol’s plodding, obvious melodrama, it’s not sex that women are even after but the desire to out-whore their mothers. It seems as if Mrs. Nozière berates, shames, and eventually presses charges against her daughter as much over Violette’s attempt to kill both parents with poison (and successfully bumping off her father) as she does because, years ago, Mr. Nozière bounced the budding girl in his lap a little too vigorously. Hence, sex has very little to do with anything resembling attraction to the entire race of political bores and STD-carrying gigolos and a whole lot more to do with the sudden disgust a mother can feel toward a daughter reaching sexual maturity…or maybe the resentment a daughter can feel toward her mother once she realizes her parental stability was likely founded on the classic bartering system of faking orgasms…or maybe there is no lesson to be learned from Violette’s example. Maybe one hardly needs a film to see that mankind is incapable of having good sex without it revealing their other various ineptitudes.

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Stéphane Audran, Jean Carmet, Jean-François Garreaud, Guy Hoffman Director: Claude Chabrol Screenwriter: Odile Barski, Hervé Bromberger, Jean-Marie Fritere, Frédéric Grendel Distributor: New Yorker Films Running Time: 123 min Rating: NR Year: 1978 Buy: Video

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