×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Violet’

Bas Devos' film is a visually stylized, highly original depiction of a teen's stages of grief.

With:
Cesar De Sutter, Raf Walschaerts, Mira Helmer, Koen De Sutter, Fania Sorel, Brent Minne.  (Dutch dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3089904/

After his best friend is killed before his eyes in a random act of violence, the teen protagonist of “Violet,” Belgian helmer Bas Devos’ debut feature, wanders around in a state of semi-shock, unable to reconnect with “normal” existence.  Devos depicts stages of grief not as a series of emotions but as an evolving alchemy of perception that surrounds the protagonist, distorting time, space, color and light in patterns of dislocation, muffling the synapses that connect sounds and images. Intensely stylized, highly original and utterly mesmerizing, “Violet” could stun arthouse audiences worldwide.

The murder that overshadows the entire film is seen only indistinctly on a silent closed-circuit TV as a night watchman, reflected on the screen, leaves just before the apparently motiveless stabbing. Devos then cuts to the mall itself as 15-year-old Jesse (Cesar De Sutter), obviously in shock, hesitantly steps forward to witness the last breaths and movements of his best friend, Jonas.

The inability to understand what has happened, much less cope with it, infects every character and every image. Jesse cannot explain to himself or to others why he was spared, or why he passively looked on and didn’t move to help Jonas. Jesse’s parents (Raf Walschaerts, Mira Helmer) see his grief but are powerless to make it go away. Jonas’ parents seem as traumatized as Jesse: His father (Koen De Sutter) moves in mechanical fits and starts while his mother (Fania Sorel) clutches Jonas’ plastic-bagged, bloodstained clothes and plaintively asks what she’s supposed to do with them.

The most radical disconnections, however, happen within the frame through the extraordinary lensing of “Bullhead” cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, who frequently rack-focuses from sharp-edged foreground figures, set against an impressionistic haze, to blurry foreground figures, set against a clear-cut backdrop. Thus, when Jesse, feeling empathy, grief or guilt, spies on Jonas’s family, his fuzzy silhouette registers as almost invisible against their house, while family members split up into lonely squares of light. In his own dimly lit home, Jesse often dematerializes like a ghost, virtually dissolving into formlessness.

Musical group Deafheaven’s song “Violet” supplies the film’s title, and a Deafheaven concert furnishes the film with a key visual setpiece, as a mass of out-of-focus people jump up and down under ultraviolet strobe lights, the camera zeroing in until it frames a single, somewhat monstrous figure — Jesse — sporadically caught in increasingly clear yet ultimately unreadable expressions of conflicting emotion.

The film is shot in Academy ratio as long-take closeups of unmoving characters assume the expectant, unnatural stillness of portraiture. Details often protrude outside any meaningful context, the camera lingering for long moments on a table, a chair or pair of shoes. This fragmentation, already operative in the multiple disparate screens that capture the murder, extends to a crucial later scene, tellingly shown only in a series of discrete details.

Different modes of perception, rarely overtly subjective, run rampant as stretches of streaming video reduced to patches of color or to other assorted distortions intrude on the slender narrative. Some have compared Karakatsanis’ quasi-experimental camerawork to that of Christopher Doyle in Gus Van Sant’s not-dissimilar “Paranoid Park,” particularly since that film’s skateboarding world finds a close correlative in the BMX milieu of “Violet.” Not knowing how to normalize their bond in Jonas’ absence, Jesse and his friends silently ride through his suburban neighborhood, with Jesse alone earthbound and everyone else jumping or twirling in midair.

But altered perception is not limited to the image. Selective sound design sporadically amps up certain audio elements, while muting or entirely eliminating others to equally disorienting effect as Jesse tunes in and out of awareness of his surroundings. And a breath-holding silence accompanies the incredible six-and-a-half-minute tracking shot that ends the pic in magisterial fashion.

Film Review: 'Violet'

Reviewed at New Directors/New Films, Walter Reade Theater, New York, March 21, 2015. (Also in 2014 Berlin, Edinburgh, Karlovy Vary, Sarajevo, AFI, Tallinn Black Nights, Turin film festivals.) Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: (Belgium-Netherlands) A Minds Meet production in co-production with Artemis Prods., Phanta Film, Mollywood. (International sales: New Europe Film Sales, Warsaw.) Produced by Thomas Leyers. Executive producer, Marc Goyens. Co-producers, Patrick Quinet, Petra Goedings, Nicolas Karakatsanis.

Crew: Directed, written by Bas Devos. Camera (color, 65mm, HD) Nicolas Karakatsanis; editor, Dieter Diependaele; music, Deafheaven; production designer, Jeff Otte; costume designer, Hanneke Geurts; sound designer, Boris Debackere; re-recording mixer, Benoit Biral; casting, Erik De Cnodder.

With: Cesar De Sutter, Raf Walschaerts, Mira Helmer, Koen De Sutter, Fania Sorel, Brent Minne.  (Dutch dialogue)

More Film

  • 76th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS --

    Film News Roundup: Glenn Close Selected for Oscar Wilde Award

    In today’s film news roundup, Glenn Close gets an honor, AFI names its Directing Workshop for Women participants and Teri Polo gets cast in a Christmas drama. CLOSE HONOR Glenn Close will be honored on Feb. 21 by the US-Ireland Alliance at the 14th Annual Oscar Wilde Awards, held at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot in [...]

  • Jason Reitman Ghostbusters

    Jason Reitman to Direct Secret 'Ghostbusters' Movie

    Sony Pictures is getting the wheels in motion for the next installment in the “Ghostbusters” franchise, and it knows who it’s going to call to direct: Jason Reitman. Sources tell Variety that Reitman, whose father, Ivan, directed the first two “Ghostbusters” movies, will direct the latest pic in the famous franchise. Reitman has also co-written a [...]

  • L.A. Teachers' Strike: Hollywood Studios, Unions

    Hollywood Studios, Unions Support Parents and Educators as L.A. Teachers' Strike Rages

    Hollywood unions and entertainment companies have stepped up to support the 31,000 Los Angeles teachers in the second day of a massive strike that’s affected nearly half a million students. More than 50 SAG-AFTRA members picketed at a Tuesday afternoon rally in the driving rain next to the Hollywood & Highland Center with secretary-treasurer Jane [...]

  • SAMUEL L. JACKSON in Glass. M.

    ‘Glass’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Universal Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Glass.” Ads placed for the superhero thriller had an estimated media value of $9.89 million through Sunday for 1,183 national [...]

  • Danny Glover

    Danny Glover Joins 'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' Sequel

    Danny Glover has joined the cast of Sony’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” sequel. His role is being kept under wraps, as is the storyline. Glover will star opposite Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan, all of whom are set to return. Awkwafina is in final negotiations for a significant part in [...]

  • DJ Khaled Bad Boys

    DJ Khaled Joins 'Bad Boys' Sequel (EXCLUSIVE)

    DJ Khaled has rounded out the cast of Sony’s upcoming “Bad Boys” sequel “Bad Boys for Life,” joining returning stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Khaled will also join series newcomers Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Jacob Scipio, and Paola Nuñez. Joe Pantoliano is on board to return as Captain Howard. Production is currently [...]

  • SAMUEL L. JACKSON in Glass. M.

    M. Night Shyamalan's 'Glass' to Break January's Slow Box Office Streak

    No plot twist here: M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller “Glass” will dominate the domestic box office. As this weekend’s lone wide release, “Glass” looks to be the de facto choice for moviegoers during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Now the only question is: how big of an opening can “Glass” pull off? Mediocre reviews don’t [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content