Rather stumbling across it by chance, this beautifully done film inspired by a true story instantly became one of my favourite WW2 dramas ever!
In 1940, somewhere in the countryside of Nazi-occupied France, 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. Owning the best house in the village, Lucile and her mother-in-law are forced to host Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) – a high-ranking German officer.
Forbidden love. Scene from "Suite Francaise". Photo: © universumfilm
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 Francaise on the piano…
The Film Locations
Suite Francaise was shot primarily in Belgium and France. The super small village of Marville in Meuse, Lorraine, which is located in North-Eastern France close to the German border, turned out to provide the perfect setting for the old-fashioned town square in the film’s fictitious town Bussy.
Other Suite Francaise Film Locations include Hainaut in Belgium and Virton in Luxembourg.
The town square in "Suite Francaise". Photo: © universumfilm
German occupation starts in the fictional town of Bussy in "Suite Francaise". Photo: © universumfilm
The town hall of Marville. Photo: By Rauenstein (Self-photographed), via Wikimedia Commons
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 French women during Nazi-occupation in France. 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.
The French woman and the German soldier – in war times an impossible combination. Photo: © universumfilm
The Guardian published some very harsh criticism calling Suite Française a “badly done soap opera”. I can’t agree with that. Okay, it is somewhat strange to cast a Belgian actor as a German General (and as a German native speaker I could hear, of course, that Matthias Schoenaerts is in fact not a native German speaker as soon as he opened his mouth). The other "casting malfunction" was of course to cast a bunch of American and British actors and let them pass as French.
However, there were also some native German speakers cast as German and overall, all actors did a good job. Worthwhile mentioning is Tom Schilling – one of my favourite German actors ever. He portrayed the viscous German soldier Kurt Bonnet, who tyrannises the whole village!
Tom Schilling as the bad guy in "Suite Francaise". Photo: © universumfilm
I thought that the overall emotional suspense was great in this film. The settings and the dialogues, especially those between the insecure Lucille and the sensitive as well as musically interested German Nazi officer Bruno von Falk, added to the "beautifullness" of it all.
As beautiful as the picture turned out to be, however, it gives you goosebumps. Especially 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.
German-Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara plays a German-Jewish woman in "Suite Francaise". Photo: © universumfilm
The final verdict: Especially if you know about the novel that his film is based on, this beautifully done drama will move you to tears… Especially the suprising twist at the end!
***** 5 out of 5 stars
What do you think of Suite Francaise – cheesy or classic? Let me know in the comments below!