Suite Française – Movie Review

Suite Francaise

Suite Française – Review by Frank L.

Directed by Saul Dibb
Writers: Matt Charman (screenplay), Saul Dibb (screenplay)
Stars: Margot Robbie, Ruth Wilson, Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott Thomas

The film is an adaptation of the second of five novellas which Irene Nemirovtsky intended to write about the events that were occurring around her in wartime France. She writes as a woman whose family had fled Russia after the revolution in 1917. They were a well-heeled Jewish banking family. In 1939 she converted to Roman Catholicism and chose to lie low in the small village of Issy-l’Eveque. It was in that village she wrote the two novellas and in that village, she was betrayed by a villager to the authorities as to her racial origins. She was arrested on 13th July 1942, deported with 928 other Jews from Pithiviers on 17th July, arriving in Auschwitz on 19th July where she died of typhus on 19th August 1942. It is the village which forms the chorus against which the more detailed stories of invaded and invader are told.

The class structure of the village remains intact after the invasion so the different concerns of the more privileged and less privileged are told. The differences are stark. However both are subjected to an occupying force whose interests are completely at odds with the inhabitants but whose demands have to be accepted even if it sticks in the craw to do so. Madame Angellier (Kirstin Scott Thomas) wants no truck with the occupying Germans but she too has to yield when a handsome, aristocratic, sensitive, piano playing young German officer, Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schonaerts) is billeted in her large house in the centre of the village. She does so with a disdainful hauteur. She is a considerable landowner, with a son serving in the French army, who is captured or may be dead. For her the Germans are beneath contempt. Her son’s young wife Lucile (Michele) lives too in the house.

She has none of her mother–in-law’s autocratic demeanour and is not at ease with her mother-in-law’s froideur. Notwithstanding the war, Madame Angellier is unbending in the pursuit of the payment of rent by her tenants. Among them is Benoit (Sam Riley) who is young and patriotic but lame. His young wife’s (Ruth Williams) feral good looks attracts the leery attention of the lusty, sex starved occupying Germans. The two story lines of the four young people have points of cross over and the stories reveal the dilemmas and compromises which became the wartime daily fare in Issey-l’Eveque.

The history of the Vichy period in France is not a glorious one but it is better that it is remembered than forgotten. There remains in France sensitivities talking openly about the period. That said this appears to be a film which takes seriously the complexities which ordinary people faced. It is blessed with fine acting and it evokes notwithstanding the big issues facing each inhabitant the smallness and claustrophobia of the village. What Irene Nemirovtsky wrote about so insightfully in that brutal time is worthy of being told not just in print. Saul Dibb and his team have done a fine job in bringing the essence of the story to the screen.


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