Violette: Claude Chabrol RIP, Masterpiece Endures

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The late eminent Claude Chabrol’s 1978 erotic crime thriller classic Violette is based on the notorious real life 1933 case of French eighteen year old Violette Noziere, who poisoned her parents so she could steal their money to buy the affection of a less than enthused lover. The film is also infused with pessimistic commentary about the degenerating state of European morality between the two World Wars.

Chabrol’s New Wave sensibility places a stylistic French accent as well on the emotional expression and intensity of character, conveyed less through language than dramatic gesture, mood and visually teeming atmosphere. Violette was also the occasion for the film’s star, Isabelle Huppert, to establish her exceptional gifts as an actress whose dynamic yet measured to perfection presence on the screen convinced as utterly real and devoid of artifice.

The 25 year old Huppert is never less than remarkable as the rebellious, disturbed teen Violette, a determined woman-child with seemingly two personalities – a docile virginal schoolgirl by day, and classy hooker by night who lures her bait in the trendy Latin Quarter. The only child of a railroad engineer and petulant housewife, Violette is raised in a claustrophobic Paris flat with makeshift rooms lacking walls and doors.

This unhealthy proximity, which Chabrol masterfully conveys through a physically suffocating interior, draws the father into apparently irresistible incestuous desires for his daughter, who in turn veers between disgust and a peculiar sexual curiosity. The already potentially volatile dysfunctional family relationships irreversibly deteriorate when a doctor informs the parents that Violette has contracted syphilis, which she then blames on a genetic disposition and presents her parents with prescription medicine that turns out to be poison.

Violette is also an increasingly compulsive thief who steals from her parents and johns alike, preferring to fleece customer wallets on the sly rather than being paid for her services. When Violette attempts to poison her parents for good, in desperation to win the love of a gambler primarily interested in her money, she’s arrested, tried, sentenced to the guillotine and years later pardoned for good behavior.

Though the film tends to follow the trajectory of surface events and not delve deeper into either psychological motivations or historical influences, Chabrol’s moody flourishes and storytelling tapestry are never less than captivating and mesmerizing.

Koch Lorber Home Entertainment

Rated R

4 stars