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Suite Francaise

Suite Francaise

Released 13 March 2015
Director Saul Dibb

Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott Thomas, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ruth Wilson, Sam Riley, Margot Robbie
Writer(s) Mtt Charman, Saul Dibb

Romain Bremond, Andrea Cornwell, Michael Kuhn, Xavier Marchand

United Kingdom, France, Canada
Running Time 107 minutes
Genre Drama, romance, war
Rating 15A

Suite F.A.

The story of Irène Némirovsky’s life and work is both fascinating and tragic. Némirovsky was a Russian born author, who studied at the Sorbonne and achieved modest success with her work in France before she was arrested by the Nazis for her Jewish lineage. She eventually succumbed to typhus in the Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of 39. Her name died with her until a journal which had long been in the possession of her daughter was discovered to contain an unfinished novel. That novel, Suite Francaise, was subsequently published and became an international bestseller. Not having read the book myself, I can’t comment on the adaptation but as a film Suite Francaise is a disaster - a Mills and Boon style tale of forbidden love and nonsensical characterisation. Némirovsky’s own life story would have made for infinitely more rewarding viewing.

The film takes place during the Nazi occupation of France. As the German army advances across the countryside, war finally comes to small, rural communities that had previously been untouched. In one such town we meet several families of varying economic standing. Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams) lives in a large house with her mother in law, the fearsome Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas). Their tenants include a poor farming couple played by Ruth Wilson and Sam Riley. When German officers are sent to stay with both families, their lives are changed as Lucile becomes ever closer to sensitive officer Bruno Van Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) and her loyalties are tested.

In terms of acting talent, the cast is an embarrassment of riches and everybody here is doing their very best to claw their way out from beneath an avalanche of cliche. Sadly, nobody really manages it. The characterisation all round is embarrassingly one-note and frequently nonsensical. There is the revolutionary who says he is not afraid to die but allows an innocent man to go to the firing squad in his place, the Nazi Officer who says he does not necessarily believe in the war but loves the sense of community it brings and local strumpet who wears silk stockings and falls into bed with the first Nazi soldier who pays her a little interest. Plastered across all this silliness is a forbidden love story that is just plain irritating. Yes, Suite Francaise couldn’t get any more soapy if it tried and all the fantastic cast can do is splash around pointlessly in the suds.

- Linda O’Brien