Director: Saul Dibb
Cast: Margot Robbie, Ruth Wilson, Michelle Williams, Kirsten Scott Thomas, Matthias Schoenquerts
Genre: War Drama Romance
Language: English and German with English subtitles
Country of Origin: UK, France, Germany 2014 107 mins.
Released by e ONE
'Denunciations of fellow citizens, collaboration and fraternisation with the enemy in WWII, a legacy that still haunts France'.
'Suite Francaise' based on Irène Némirovsky's novel of the same name is set in the small fictional town of Bussy and explores the ways in which the characters lives are changed by the occupation leading to denunciations of fellow citizens, collaboration and love affairs with the enemy.
With the French army humiliated Parisian refugees pour into the small town of Bussy. Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams), a woman dominated by her haughty self-centred mother-in-law Madame Angellier (Kirstin Scott Thomas) awaits news of her husband, a prisoner of war. When a battalion of German soldiers are billeted in the town the reality of occupation kicks in and a young German officer, Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) will change Lucile's life as a forbidden love affair emerges.
Bussy's hierarchical divide means little as the town ruptures with the arrival of the German occupying forces. This is an occupation seen from the villager's and particularly the women's view point and characters cope in different ways. It takes a war to reveal the true character. Care-free Celine (Margot Robbie) sees the German men living in the house as 'just people like us'. The Viscount de Montmort (Lambert Wilson), eagerly seeks the victor's embrace and all but salivates as he sucks up to the German Commandant (Heino Ferch) for favourable treatment and the bitter and tormented tenant farmer Benoit Labarie (Sam Riley), unable to fight because of his damaged leg or protect his wife Madeleine (Ruth Wilson) from the unwanted attention of the aggressive Kurt Bonnet (Tom Schilling) is treated with contempt by the class conscious, self-seeking Viscountess (Harriet Walker).
Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts performances have an understated elegance and strength and Tom Schilling brings to the fore the inbuilt arrogance of the victor but the essence of the novel isn't there. Kirstin Scott Thomas portrayal of the tormented Madame Angellier didn't work for me and it may be because the film's in English to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. I'd preferred it in French - the German cast speak German. Whatever, 'Suite Francaise' is watchable and poignant.
Irene Nemirovsky, a novelist of Ukranian Jewish descent lived in Paris with her husband Michel Epstein and their two daughters 12-year-old Denise and 4-year-old Elisabeth before the German invasion after which they moved to the village of Issy-l'Eveque in Burgundy, a safe haven which became the inspiration for the fictional Bussy. Irene Nemirovsky was denounced as a Jew and deported to Auschwitz where she died of typhus in 1942. Michael Epstein was transported straight to the gas chamber. Irene entrusted her notebooks to her daughters who assumed that they were her diaries and remained unread until the 1990s, when Denise began to transcribe what turned out to be the first two parts of a planned five part novel.
'it is an extraordinary feeling to have brought my mother back to life. It shows the Nazis did not truly succeed in killing her. It is not vengeance, but it is a victory.' Denise Epstein