When it comes to biopic movies, I tend to watch ones of those people I know. Pretty much watching it from a curious fan point of view to see a different side of this character. Sometimes it changes my view, sometimes it reenforces. There were times when I knew but did not care about the main focus of the movie.This was the first time I sat down to watch a movie about a person I knew nothing about.
Not only that, I have a strong aversion to experiencing non-fiction elements (i.e. documentaries, autobiographies, non fiction novels). There is this sense that I am being manipulated to care about the central focal point because the creator cared, and I irrationally resent that.
I gave myself a mental challenge as the lights dimmed: will I want to know more about this Violette Ludec?
Here’s all I know about this movie:
1. It’s a french movie.
That is it. That is all I knew before going in. Being an avid kdrama, Bollywood, and other international cinema viewer, I am very comfortable with subtitles. It was just that it’s a french movie.
French movies immediately invoke pretentiousness through abstract means in my mind. This is not meant to make a mean statement. This idea has permeated everything from Simpsons to Rugrats. So, I approached this movie like I approach a modern art exhibit, a breath is always taken to focus my mind. I try to approach unfamiliar art territory with an open and biased mind.
“A beautiful woman turns heads for her beauty….An ugly woman turns heads for her ugliness”
As the movie begins, Emmanuelle Devos who plays Violette Ludec voices these words over a scene where she is running away from something through the dark trees. You hear the chilling sounds of barking dogs chasing her.
I could not help but groan mentally. Was this to become a story about a woman who cares only for her lack of beauty? I thought this was a movie about a writer?
The movie carries on and I struggle a bit to keep my mind open and hold the judgements later. At some point during the movie though, I started to get it. Many days later, I’m pretty sure I understand why this movie was created.
All of what I understand is gleaned from the movie. Violette Ludec was a bastard child (as she reminds us over and over again) and she is ugly (as she repeats over and over again). Encouraged by her gay writer friend (who was pretending to be her husband then he disappears to Germany), Ludec is compelled to write all of her thoughts down into words. Feeling inspired after reading a novel by Simone De Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain), Ludec decides to stalk De Beauvoir for awhile before handing over her manuscript. Luckily, De Beauvoir is not horrified by the sudden fan. Instead she reads it and encourages Ludec to keep writing. De Beauvoir becomes an invaluable friend, mentor, and one source of Ludec’s heat break.
Turns out that Ludec was a passionate bisexual individual. She was very sexually aggressive, often making plays on people who did not share the same sentiment. Ludec was brazen and knew what she wanted. It was really sad that it just seemed really one-sided.
As the movie plays on, we learn that Ludec was surviving by selling food items via the black market (she even ate maggot-infested meat.That simple scene of her calmly washing the meat pretty much set how serious those times were).
Later on in the movie, Ludec is being hospitalized. Her famous friends are concerned and come to visit. Out of all her caretakers during this time, it is Simone De Beauvoir that summed up the power of Ludecs pull on her friends. Beauvoir tiredly tells another character: “You are not just friends with Violette, you know that” then turns around and trudges back up the stairs to care for Ludec. As when all hell breaks loose, you find who your true friends are and what your priorities should have been.That seemed to be her own self turning point to find herself.
There were some heavy name dropping from the literature world. Apparently she was friends with Sarte. The other names were not familiar to me but you can tell they were heavy hitters in the literature world.
I did not find her physically ugly. Throughout most of the movie, I was distracted by all the beautiful clothes she was wearing. She looked stunning and I was quite jealous. It was her temper tantrums that was ugly. They were unfounded, unstable, sudden, and hurtful.
There is no debate that Emmanuelle Devo’s portrayal of Ludec was powerful. Not sure if it was exaggerated but all of her acting literally showed how volatile Ludec was. One minute she’s overacting in a goofy movie with her friends. The next second she is tearfully tearing across the forest after taking offense to something. Plus, Ludec was sexually charged. She was a very sexually frustrated bisexual who just kept going after all the wrong men and women. Yet the same people who spurned her advances kept staying in Ludec’s life. Was it her works that kept them staying? Was there something in her personality that they were drawn to? Was it guilt? Whatever it was, I could not figure it out.
When I think back to the opening line, I don’t think she was talking about being physically ugly,even though she often complained about it. There is a quiet scene where De Beauvoir is eating her dinner as Ludec watches from the corner of her eye in another booth. The scene is depicted in many of the promotional posters, so I’m thinking there is some significance in that. De Beauvoir (and the actress who portrayed her) was very pretty and had a sense of sophisticated charisma. Ludec pales in comparison (I still refuse to describe her or the actress who portrayed her ugly) outwardly but exacerbates it with her brutal temper and words. Both different women, one beautiful and one “ugly”,yet both turned heads with their works.
The answer to my mental challenge is that I am more curious about their works than the author herself. This biopic gave us a glimpse of her personal struggles that must have powered the strength of her works. It is insinuated the impact her works had but the focus was on Ludec herself.
Perhaps once I read “Le Batarde” by Ludec or even “She Came to Stay” by De Beauvoir, I may re-watch this movie in a different light.