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Koch Lorber presents
Violette (1978)

"I didn't want to kill you, Mother."
- Violette (Isabelle Huppert)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 08, 2007

Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Stephane Adran, Jean Carmet
Other Stars: Jean-François Garreaud, Guy Hoffmann, Bernadette Lafont
Director: Claude Chabrol

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexual elements, nudity, thematic material)
Run Time: 02h:03m:10s
Release Date: May 08, 2007
UPC: 741952310396
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BC+C- D

DVD Review

Prolific French director Claude Chabrol frequently worked in the suspense genre, but with Violette (onscreen title Violette Naziere) he ventures into the true crime field. Based on a true event fictionalized in a novel by Jean-Marie Fitere, the film features a dive into the fine line between a wild youngster and a sociopathic mind, without providing any satisfying answers.

Teenaged Violette Noziere (Isabelle Huppert) leads a double life in early 1930s Paris: to her devout middle-class family, she's a good girl going to school, but in fact she spends her days and nights in the Latin Quarter, prostituting herself to earn money. In between blackmailing rich clients, she falls in love with errant law student Jean Dabin (Jean-Franç Garreaud). Wanting to pamper him and to elevate herself emotionally, Violette starts spending money wildly on Jean; he reciprocates by getting into debt by gambling, and calling upon Violette to rescue him. She is more than happy to comply, but her choice of means is to poison her parents.

Although Huppert was in her mid-20s, she manages to pull off Violette marvelously well; her freckled face gives her a teenage freshness, while her coldly calculating adult persona has a cynical worldweariness that hardly seems like the same character. It's a tour de force (for which she won Best Actress at Cannes) that is a veritable Jekyll and Hyde act, driven by the psychological complexity of Violette. Although she appears willing to lie about nearly anything, in her justifications she tells of being sexually abused by her father. Is there some truth to that? Chabrol tantalizes that this might explain some of her conduct, with a number of highly ambiguous flashbacks that could demonstrate paternal affection, or could have a sinister subtext depending on your point of view. Different viewers may come to very different conclusions.

The supporting cast is nowhere near as flashy, but they work well in tandem. Chabrol regular Audran turns in a solid performance as the mother driven half to madness by her daughter's conduct, while desperately trying to find an innocent explanation for her behavior. Jean Carmet renders father Baptiste Noviere in a sympathetic light, making him almost pathetic in his trust of his daughter. Jean-François Dupas reminds one of Porfiry Petrovich in his relentless portrayal of the police inspector determined to bring Violette to justice. One place where the casting falls down is with Garreaud; he doesn't have much chemistry with Huppert and their romance never quite jells. As a result the central motivation of the poisoning doesn't have the credibility that it really needs to pull this tale off.

One suspects Chabrol recognized a certain amount of weakness in the motivations. He attempts to cover it up with some clever editing that jumps from shortly before the crime until hours later, only actually showing it near the end, in flashback. This disjointed and fragmented sense of time is used throughout the picture as Violette has a variety of flashbacks, with both ironic and portentous significance. The time structure frequently becomes difficult to follow (more than once as I was watching, I thought a reel had been dropped somehow), but had a strict chronological narration been used, what little impact the crime carries would have been greatly blunted, making the last half hour anticlimactic. It's a clever use of editing technique to sustain interest, though it may leave some viewers scratching their heads. The pacing is often lethargic, and the sexual content is quite far from erotic. As a result it hardly qualifies as a thriller, and may disappoint those lookng for one of Chabrol's Hitchcockian outings.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 picture is quite obviously trimmed significantly on the sides, with characters cut in half or shunted off screen while they deliver lines. The glowing photography of Jean Rabier comes across pretty well, giving a nice romantic glow to the proceedings. However, color, while vivid, is a bit smeary, and some scenes are excessively dark. The print suffers from moderate speckling and occasional light damage. Patterns tend to shimmer, indicating the bit rate may be a bit on the low side.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: Although the dialogue is firmly rooted in the center, occasional sound effects display some directionality. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is rather noisy, with hiss and other issues prevalent throughout the entire running time. The soundtrack has a rather limited range, lacking in presence and bass.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Comedy of Power, Le Petit lieutenant, Nathalie, Gilles' Wife, Changing Times, La Belle captive
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:48s

Extras Review: The only extras are trailers for six French pictures released on DVD by Koch Lorber. One of them, Comedy of Power is a Claude Chabrol picture; only the trailers for Le petit lieutenant and La belle captive are presented in anamorphic widescreen; the rest are in nonanamorphic widescreen. If only Koch Lorber had seen fit to present Violette in some kind of widescreen!

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

While there are some uneven aspects, Huppert is excellent in the complex lead role. Alas, the print is not only in marginal shape, but it's panned and scanned to boot.


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