Suite Française (2015)
Director: Saul Dibb
Starring: Michelle Williams; Matthias Schoenaerts; Kristin Scott Thomas; Sam Riley; Ruth Wilson; Lambert Wilson; Margot Robbie; Alexandra Maria Lara; Tom Schilling; Harriet Walter.
Plot: In occupied France a forbidden love story blossoms between a German officer and a French woman.
By looking at the poster for the romantic war drama Suite Française, it is immediately clear in what historical period the story is set. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Russian Jew Irène Némirovsky, the film is a tale of love, loyalty and conflicting emotions unfolding against the backdrop of WWII, specifically in 1940 during the German occupation of France.
The first scene shows us Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lucille (Michelle Williams) and we soon understand that Lucille is the main character of the story. This is even more evident from the use of close-ups and of her voice-over that acts as narrator to the story. Lucille lives with her mother-in-law Madame Angellier, who is a wealthy landowner. Lucille and her mother-in-law’s relationship is difficult and this is almost immediately pretty clear as Lucille seems forced to obey her in everything; seeming trapped in her own house and, I might say, life. Suddenly, the German regiment arrives in the village and so does the war.
What was interesting was the first meeting between Lucille and Bruno von Falk, a German lieutenant, who is stationed at Lucille and her mother-in-law’s house. The relationship between the two grows as, before the war, Lucille was married to a man she barely knew and she is instantly drawn to the kind-hearted Bruno, who seems so different from what she’s been told to expect from Germans as enemies. Their love for music is also a reason for the two to bond and is shown throughout the story.
The most beautiful moments in the film are the ones shared between Lucille and Bruno. They are the most insightful and emotional moments of the film with another key element being the importance of looks and glances. Lucille often peeps at Bruno through the door between the two adjoining rooms just to hear him play the piano, for example.
Bruno’s character is beautifully and brilliantly played by Matthias Schoenaerts who has a long and prolific career ahead of him – mark my words. Bruno is a young German officer who, as often happened in those times, is torn between his duty and his growing love for Lucille but also between his morality and what he’s forced to do for his country. He’s an interesting character; a musician, very sensitive and intelligent, and along with Lucille he is my own favourite character. Bruno is hardened and changed by the war and this comes out in his dialogues with Lucille, when he tells her about his brothers, as well as in his actions. He seems to be Lucille’s soulmate – a kindred spirit – but unfortunately they’re constantly reminded of the war.
Lucille was undoubtedly my favourite character and Michelle Williams’s performance was outstanding. I must admit that I didn’t expect it, but this performance is her best of her career, for me, by far.
Another interesting character is Lucille’s mother-in-law. She seems harsh and cold, quite the opposite of her daughter-in-law, but as the story unfolds things get more interesting but you’ll have to wait and see about that.
Maybe the film should have shown more of the war but overall it was a pleasure to watch. The story shows a different side of that period. There’s always cruelty and the backdrop of the conflict, but the main focus in the film is the human struggle between what’s right and what’s wrong, along with the deep love story between Bruno and Lucille. The use of close-ups and the use of point of view shots, particularly the one used in the first meeting of Bruno and Lucille, are very meaningful as they help to display her unique way of seeing him.
I also liked very much the ending as it was very poignant and important for the story.
The film was certainly exciting and very emotional. The director Saul Dibb, already famous for The Duchess starring Keira Knightley, made the best film of his career in my opinion. The soundtrack was also so touching and appropriate for each moment and I was happy to hear the name of this new talented composer Real Jones. I couldn’t really fight back the tears in some scenes.
I hope you’ll watch this film as it might not be the classical war film but it is clearly a masterpiece.
I'm particularly passionate about British and German cinema, and I'm a sucker for a good old war film.