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Love in war

Romance blooms between a French villager and a German soldier in WWII

Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts make for a perfect couple in Suite Française.

Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts make for a perfect couple in Suite Française.

Suite Française (2015)
Certified: 15
Duration: 107 minutes
Directed by: Saul Dibb
Starring: Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott Thomas, Matthias Schoenaerts, Sam Riley, Ruth Wilson, Lambert Wilson, Margot Robbie, Alexandra Maria Lara, Harriet Walter, Eileen Atkins, Tom Schilling, Deborah Findlay
KRS Releasing Ltd

Suite Française is a mix of romance, drama, Mills and Boon and Shakespeare elements all mixed into the World War II setting to make this a likeable British-styled picture.

The film, based on the bestselling but ultimately unfinished series of books by Irene Nemirovsky, is very easy on the eye, subtly twangs one’s emotions and has the right touches historically and stylistically to make this a welcome cinematic offering.

The literary source itself would have made quite a movie as the author ended up dead in Auschwitz and the two books and the notes for the other three books were found by her daughter about 65 years later. This in itself gives the film a certain resonance of having actually been there.

One of the film’s main attractions has to be the pairing of Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts, a coupling which is to say the least inspired. It would have not been out of place for a Romeo and Juliet adaptation, with which this film shares quite a few thematic elements.

Suite Française can at times be too broad in its approach, but it’s this fact that immediately places us squarely in the centre of France at the time of the German invasion of 1940.

France has lost the war and the Germans are taking over. In a quiet French town, Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a thick slice of French upper crust society while her daughter-in-law Lucile (Michelle Williams) is more soft in her approach to life and war. The two are waiting for Lucile’s husband to come back home from the war even though they do not have any news of him.

With the arrival of the Germans comes also the order that each household is to house German soldiers. Thus enters officer Lt Bruno van Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) who turns out to be not just another Nazi but actually one who is charming, nice and a gentleman. His views on politics and piano playing serve to bring the French wife and the German officer together.

Meanwhile, there are other factors in play such as harassment by other German officers, Madame Angellier’s suspicions and judgements, and also other events that impinge on their relationships – whether they are free to love or not whomever they please irrespective of the events that are happening around them.

All in all, the film makes for a fresh, old-fashioned film that is very high on its emotions. Most of all, it is not afraid of it being a love story and a drama at the same time. It’s this self-awareness and ability to exercise a sense and feeling of abandonment in its love story elements that make this such a nice andgenuine watch.

Schoenaerts and Williams make for a very good couple and from the start we are aware of how much they need to handle their relationship with extreme care. Williams looks so strong and yet so vulnerable while the Belgian Schoenaerts seems to hail from Hollywood’s Golden Age. His is a classic performance of anger and internal struggle, as he is constantly wrestling with himself.

Scott Thomas shows off why she is considered to be one of Britain’s finest actors and she seems to give the film its touch of royalty.

Visually, the film looks gorgeous and, when combined with the rich musical score of Rael Jones and Dibb’s deft direction, Suite Française emerges a winner.

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