Violet is a terrific first feature from an assured director

VIOLET (Bas Devos). 82 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (May 12). See listing. Rating: NNNN


It’s a terrible thing to lose someone to violence, and more terrible still to experience it before you’re capable of fully understanding what has happened. That’s the emotional crux of Violet, and it’s a potent one. 

It’s taken three years for Flemish writer/director Bas Devos’s first feature to open here, but it’s lost none of its awful gravity, immersing us in the grief and paralysis of a Belgian teen who saw a friend killed in a scuffle at a shopping mall. 

Having watched helplessly, either because he was in shock or simply afraid to get involved, Jesse (Cesar de Sutter) drifts through the subsequent days, unable to find a way to process or articulate his trauma as everyone around him moves forward. 

His friends put him at arm’s length. His father doesn’t know how to reach him. And the dead boy’s family are in a hell of their own.

Comparisons to Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park are inevitable, since both films deal with a loose group of athletic teenagers corrupted by sudden violence (and both were shot at the old-fashioned aspect ratio of 1.37:1, for no immediately evident reason), but Devos is working in a different register, setting Jesse’s guilt and disconnection against the general stasis of suburbia. 

We’re just dropped in there with the poor kid, steeped in his silence and confusion, hoping he’ll find a way out. And that empathy, created through a beautiful aesthetic of long takes and thoughtful observation, makes for a powerful experience.

Violet is a terrific first feature from an assured, confident talent hopefully Devos’s next film won’t take as long to get here.

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