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Review: Beautiful, but painfully slow, ‘Violet’ explores aftermath of violence

A scene from the film "Violet."
(Ryan Bruce Levey Film Distribution)

Belgian filmmaker Bas Devos’ debut feature, “Violet,” is the work of a young director with an amazing eye who at some point in his career may craft a masterpiece. But as a screenwriter — for this picture at least — Devos puts too much stock in his visual style to carry the meaning of a thinly plotted, snail-paced slice-of-life.

Cesar De Sutter plays Jesse, a skilled teenage BMX rider who in the opening scene sees his best friend, Jonas, get stabbed to death in a mall. Rather than deal with the crime or its motive, Devos focuses on the aftermath, spending the next 80 minutes watching Jesse, his friends and Jonas’ parents all struggle with their grief.

There are multiple precedents for what Devos is trying to do. Swedish director Ruben Östlund masterfully reveals the interior lives of his characters through long, artfully framed takes; and in films like “Paranoid Park” Gus Van Sant has sensitively explored communities of lost boys. But Östlund and Van Sant’s films have clear story and character arcs, even at their most experimental. “Violet” never progresses. It’s just one long, slow wallow.

That said, Devos and cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis devise so many striking images that the movie is always a pleasure to watch. From the opening take of multiple security monitors displaying the crime as it happens to the lyrical tracking shots of bicycles gliding through suburbia, “Violet” never lacks for a certain melancholy beauty.

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‘Violet’

In Flemish and Dutch with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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