Rather stumbling across it by chance during my London visit back in April 2015, this beautifully done film instantly became one of my favourite WW2 dramas ever!
On 14th of January 2016, the touching tale of a forbidden relationship between enemies is finally being released in Germany – featuring a truly great cast of Germans, Americans, British – and one Belgium actor!
In the countryside of Nazi-occupied France during WW2, Lucille Angellier (Michelle Williams) lives in the house of her domineering mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) while her husband is away at war.
When a regiment of German soldiers arrives, almost every house in the small village is forced to take in a German soldier as their lodger. So, Lucile and her mother-in-law are stuck with Bruno von Falk, a high-ranking German commander.
Although the unhappily married Lucile tries to stay away from the enemy in her house as much as she can, she soon finds herself feeling attracted to the German. Especially as Bruno starts to play the sweet melody of Suite Française on the piano…
Suite Française was shot primarily in Belgium and France. The super small French village of Marville in Lorraine turned out to provide the perfect setting for the old-fashioned square of the film’s fictitious town of Bussy.
In August 2013, the scenes inside the house were filmed for three weeks in Belgium. Director Saul Dibb commented that the the hot weather helped create "its own weird, uncomfortable, claustrophobic atmosphere which you hope is going to feed into the atmosphere of the scenes."
On a note related to the film’s theme, romantic relationships often developed between German men and local women during Nazi-occupation. As displayed in the film, this was of course frowned upon and the children that were born as a result of these relationship often suffered from this “stigma” all their life. Insightful exhibitions about this delicate topic include the one I saw last year at Oslo’s City Museum.
The Guardian published some very harsh criticism, called Suite Française a “badly done soap opera”. I can’t agree with that. Okay, it is somewhat strange to cast a Belgium as a German General (and as a German native speaker I could hear, of course, that Matthias Schoenaerts is -in fact – not a native speaker) as well as a bunch of Americans and British actors as French.
Overall, the actors did a great job though. Worthwhile mentioning is Tom Schilling, one of my favourite German actors ever. Even though he only had a small part as the viscous German soldier who tyrannizes the whole village, I think he did a brilliant job!
As beautiful as the picture turned out to be, however, it gives you Goosebumps when you know that the author of the novel that the film is based on, was killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz. Written during the actual period of Nazi-occupation in France, Irène Némirovsky's daughter originally thought her mother’s notes were a personal journey and kept it in her attic without reading it for 50 years. It was only in the late 1990’s that Némirovsky’s novella Suite Française was re-discovered and became a worldwide bestseller.
My verdict: Especially if you know about the novel the film is based on, this beautifully done drama will move you to tears!
***** 5 out of 5 stars
What do you think of Suite Française – cheesy or classic? Let me know in the comments below!