Suite Française was discovered after Irene Nemirovsky’s death almost fifty years ago by her daughter. Nemirovsky died in 1942 after living most of her life in France and was arrested by Nazi’s and relocated in Auschwitz concentration camp for being Jewish; it was there where she lived her last moments, having been killed alongside thousands of other Jews in the camp. This thrilling romantic drama is based on her novel of a young woman awaiting the return of her husband Gaston fighting against Nazi Germany.
Lucille Angellier (Michelle Williams) lives with her overbearing mother-in-law Madam Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas). Lucille’s mundane education of running her husband’s estate is emotionally overturned when the Nazi’s take over their little French village, forcing themselves into their lives by taking residency in their homes. German officer Bruno (Matthias Schoenaerts) enters into Lucille’s life as an enemy. Forbidden to speak to him by her intolerable mother-in-law, Lucille develops an interest in Bruno whilst listening to unfamiliar music emanating from Bruno’s room. They soon find themselves caught between the devastation of war and infidelity to those separated by war.
This passionate and intricately detailed screen adaptation of the Novel Suite Francaise creates nothing but excitement for its audience, diving straight into an educational and interesting twist to fiction. We are offered different perceptions of war time life and into the eyes of those we saw as enemies, conveying the raw, human element of every man, women and soldiers; that ultimately finds itself to revolve the around the one thing that makes us human: love. Its writer who perished before her literary career could begin, whose daughter had salvaged her work from what remained of the life Nemirovsky had left behind, was finally published in 2004. Having found her mother’s death a painful grievance, reading through her work was overwhelming for her daughter. Fifty years on she had gathered the strength to read it, revealing a touching and heartfelt novel.
Scott Thomas has graced us with her breathtaking performances throughout the years, well known for her complex and devilishly strong characters there is no wonder she was the perfect actress for such a strong and domineering character. The Anglo-French actress has starred alongside Eva Green in Arsene Lupin, a stunning French Performance of a manipulative beauty who never ages, following Green’s Femme Fatal aura as she charms men into the most sinful actions. Scott Thomas’s performance was transporting, leaving its audience in the tragedy of love and war, portraying the fear and love she has for her son who is lost in action whilst also conveying the hard shell that many had to develop to suffer through such turmoil and uncertainty of the safety of their loved ones.
Both Schenaeorts and Williams portray a passionate and complex relationship on screen, intricately showing their characters’ initial restraint of emotions until the release of chemistry and affection when Bruno shows the humanity behind the enemy, drawing Lucille to the man she truly loves.
Film direction from Saul Dibb left a lasting effect on his audience with the quick introduction to WWII warfare action, the use of German bombing so early on in the film creates an outstanding way to capture the audience directly into the tense and melancholic atmosphere that so many people had to endure.
Dibb’s setting of a small French town helps convey the isolation of the characters in the traumatic life of war. The beautiful setting deceives the eye, hiding the complexities and quiet suffering of the town as they are over ruled by Nazi Germany, allowing the actors themselves to convey this atmosphere to the audience. Although the story is beautifully complex and tragic (the recipe for a gripping romance) the structure of the film could have been improved to stop the audience dropping off during the film. The first part of the film was gripping, with action of German attacks on refugees moving through the French countryside; the rest of the duration of the film was quite tame in terms of action. It may have been more beneficial to the audience to have scenes with more action later on in the film as opposed to the start, as this creates a climax for the rest of the film to only be considerably calm in comparison.
Despite the minor criticisms, this is a heartbreaking, outstanding film that is well worth a watch.