Violette opens with Isabelle Huppert dressed in black with thick eyeliner, red lips looking every bit the femme fatale. In a bar, she teases young men with intense stares, long cigarettes and indecent proposals. Soon, however, we see young Violette at home, where she is clean faced, seemingly obedient, looking years younger, eye battingly sweet and a pathological lair. She suddenly, in the skillful hands of Huppert, becomes more complex; recognizable as one of those sociopath teenage girls who longs for something more than her common, strict home life – a 1930s echo of all the girls that walk out of their houses in modest clothes and a lie about spending the night with a friend only to have a stash of makeup, revealing tube tops and mini skirts in her backpack for a tour of the mall. Except, of course, that this one has murder on her mind.
Based on a true story, Violette is a conniving teen – deeply passionate underneath a shockingly emotionless exterior. The murder, once it is revealed, is as mundane as it is disturbing. Her life outside the home is daring and dangerous. She meets with many older men, is a blackmailer, and even keeps a hotel room for her many trysts. Her parents, a struggling but happy train conductor and a gorgeous woman with a secret past – played by Chabrol’s wife and muse Stephane Audran, are poor (but never has close quarter apartment living looked so cozily French – save for 400 Blows maybe). They try their best to assure better for their daughter and the relationship and dynamics are tackled with subtly and the artful patience Chabrol is known for. This is not a fast paced film but a quietly fascinating one – partially for the cinematic beauty and partially for Huppert’s captivating performance.
Director Claude Chabrol passed away last week and was one of the most important forerunners of the New Wave movement in France. His career is vast and sadly less known than many of his contemporaries. His last work, Bellamy, comes to theaters this Fall.