Virginie Despentes Makes France Angry, but Things Are Changing

In 2019, “Vernon Subutex” was adapted into a TV series starring the French actor Romain Duris. (It is available on the streaming platform Topic in the United States.) But Despentes said she felt the script had simplified the books so much that it missed the point: She hadn’t even watched it, she added. “If you take away the politics, the rise of the far right, the feminist aspect, what’s left is a sort of detective investigation. If I were Agatha Christie, I’d do that all the time. But I’m not.”

Despentes hasn’t worked for the screen since “Bye Bye Blondie,” a 2012 adaptation of her novel of the same name, which starred Dalle as a lesbian punk. She would like to write and direct a TV series, she said, but can’t abide the “deep-seated undercurrent of misogyny” in France’s movie and television industry.

In March, after Roman Polanski, who has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women, was named best director at France’s equivalent of the Oscars, Despentes’ reaction — another open letter, “From now on, we get up and we leave” — took off on social media. (Polanski denies the allegations.)

Instead of directing, she has recently been performing onstage, most recently in the feminist musical production “Viril,” alongside Dalle and the rapper Casey. As she delivered monologues about women’s experiences of abuse, by authors including Preciado and Leslie Feinberg, Despentes was calmly powerful.

Despentes said she had worked hard in recent years on managing her anger, which she once feared would “burn everyone around her,” damaging relationships as well as her work. She enjoyed the rapturous reception for “Vernon Subutex,” she said, but added that consensus had never been her goal.

“It’s nice to have a period of time when you feel loved, accepted, when you’re very well paid. But if you’re loved all the time, you’re dead,” Despentes said, laughing. “It’s not a writer’s job.”


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