Suite Francaise is directed by Saul Dibb (The Duchess 2008) who also co-wrote the film with Matt Charman. It is based on manuscripts written by Irene Nemirovsky who sadly died in a concentration camp in 1942. The papers were discovered by family members decades after the event and only published in 2004. Suite Francaise was intended to be a five volume series based on Irene’s observations and experiences of World War 2 although for the reasons stated above the books were never completed.
The film makers have chosen to focus on the forbidden love story of a French middle class villager Lucille Angellier, played by Michelle Williams, and German officer Bruno von Falk, played by Matthias Schoenaerts. The will they/won’t they relationship is played out against the backdrop of von Falk’s unit arriving in the small French village changing the clocks to German time, confiscating guns and generally riling the locals.
Suite Francais attempts to show the relationship between the French and Germans as various shades of grey as opposed to a black or white, us and them, type affair. Some of the locals attempt to use the German occupiers to settle old scores while shouting and swearing at those they see as collaborators. This has the potential to create a cauldron of intrigue and distrust ready to explode at any moment. Sadly the film never gets beyond a mild simmer.
I was never bored but the exciting stuff wasn’t the illicit relationship but the politics of the situation. I wanted to see more of who was using who, the development of a local resistance and see a rich picture of the reality of German occupation. Suite Francais dabbles in all of this but fails to settle on a clear direction. The stand out performance is that of Kristin Scott Thomas as Lucille’s mother-in-law who shines as the stoic old battle axe with a heart of gold.
In summary I think the film would have been better served if it had been an ensemble piece exploring the complexities of the arrival of an occupying force on the local populous. It’s a bit comme ci comme ca if you’ll forgive my French. My rating (3/5).