Murder in the Noziere family amid its attempt at upward mobility within France's social class structure
"Violette Noziere" depicts the life of the Noziere family, a father who is a railroad engineer, a mother who is a seamstress, and a daughter (Violette), whom they are saving money for and trying to get educated at an upper-class school so as to attain movement into a higher class. The movie has a central mystery in the character of Violette. We constantly wonder about her as we enter her life. We wonder why she lies to her parents, why she steals from them, why she lies to others, why she supports and loves a neer-do-well boy friend and eventually we wonder why she poisons them. After that, we wonder if her allegations of incest are true or false.
The movie doesn't hit us over the head with the explanation and answers, but it's all there. It all has to do with the social class structure of France at the time, and the pressures being placed on Violette to rise above her birth status. This is no excuse for murder, but it sheds light on her. And it sheds light on that part of the movie which shows the different kinds of reactions from Parisians and across France.
This is taken from a true-life story. This was a big scandal in 1933 and the reactions to it at that time reflected the social positions of those reacting. The movie accurately shows us all this social positioning in the best cinematic way, by showing it to us visually and by using telling action scenes to depict it and bring it out.
We see Violette dressing far above her class. We see her attracted to someone she thinks has millions. We see her lying about her status. We see the cramped apartment of her parents and their stashes of money. We see them worried about making a good impression and worrying about overcooking the roast. We see the parents practicing crude birth control so as not to have but one child. The script is first rate.
The direction is very good, with the emphasis being on showing the normal lives of these people and the resulting dysfunction of murder, also a mystery no matter how much we may try to understand it. Chabrol doesn't preach or lecture. His depictions are subtle. The tensions shown by the wife (Stephanie Audran) are especially noteworthy. Violette is a quiet scheming one, and her boy friend says she is capable of anything. The father does favor his daughter, but incest? Possible, but we will never know. That's not the central focus anyway.
For some reason, I am reminded of "Day of the Locust" (1978) with Donald Sutherland, because it also depicted a milieu while also showing a collection of characters from a place and time of about the same era of the 1920s, but in Hollywood. And Violette came out the same year.
I particularly like the moment after Violette is convicted in which the camera pans over the contented male jurors' faces and Violette tells them "You disgust me. You're all pitiful. You're all bastards." The viewer who pays close attention to the faces of her mother and father during the movie will be well-rewarded by good acting.
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