The differences between Lizzie Borden and Violette Noziere are that Borden was acquitted while Noziere was convicted, but the popular culture that condemned Lizzie historically ("Lizzie Borden took an axe...") was more effective than the new film, "Violette," which attempts to give Noziere a psychological defense.

The crime of murdering one's parents, particularly when committed by a seemingly dutiful daughter, is bound to capture the public imagination, and the Noziere murder was certainly a celebrated cause (as we say in French subtitles) of its time. It is not easy to get at the motivation, however, and what we seem to have in the film is one of those acts that are unsatisfactorily described in crime news as "senseless."

The film has not succeeded in supplying any sense behind it. Violette Noziere, who was playing the part of loving and childish daughter to her fond parents, led a double life as a prostitute. As presented here, the story is careful to demolish the easy defenses that might explain her then turning on the parents. Her explanation, that her father forced incest on her, is clearly not true in this version; it is not even true that he was guilty of the lesser offense of being "too authoritative." He is pictured here as a sweet and loving man, with a sentimental interest in keeping Violette "pure," but with surprising tolerance when she asserts her right to do otherwise.

The parents remain supportive even when Violette announces that she has syphilis, let alone when she wears her dried-blood street lipstick in the house. Her love for them appears to be as genuine as theirs for her, and the only aspect of the family she seems to find objectionable is her parents' romantic and sexual interest in each other.

That a beloved child would turn murderess out of rage at her parents' conventional happiness simply does not wash, psychologically or dramatically. And the efforts to disguise the senselessness in the resulting film by mixing up time sequences with no logical order for the flashback and dream sequences simply results in further confusion.

The one asset of the film is its cast, particularly the stunning Isabelle Huppert as a stylized 1930s beauty with sullen sensuality. However, she is handicapped by its having been established at the beginning of the film that she is suffering from venereal disease, even though the natural consequences of this are ignored throughout. In the most intense, erotic scenes, it's difficult to think of the heroine as anything but a public health menace. In French with English subtitles.

VIOLETTE -- Outer Circle 2.