Whilst many may groan at the release of Suite Francaise as yet another war film to hit the big screen, this should not detract possible viewers from what is a poignant and moving depiction of war created by director Saul Dibb. The film is based on the recently found writings of Ukrainian-Jewish author Irène Némirovsky, who fled the Nazis in 1940 to relocate in Burgundy and write.
In the opening of the film we are presented with the somewhat fraught relationship between an all-powerful mother-in-law figure Madame Angellier (Kristen Scott Thomas) and the fresh faced, subservient yet mutinous daughter-in-law, Lucille (Michelle Williams) who belong to a wealthy family who occupy the town of Bussy, France. As war hits Bussy, the residents are forced to house a regiment of German soldiers and we see the age-old ideals and physical thresholds of the town start to shatter.
The film centres on Lucille, a woman trapped within an empty house as she awaits the return of her absent husband. She and the German soldier that comes to stay with them (Matthias Schoenaerts) begin a forbidden romance which provides enticing juxtaposition and humanity to the horrors happening around them. It is what is unsaid and unadorned with the clichés of Hollywood that makes the film so touching; the music that expresses love, the two candles of betrayal and the final meal of a condemned man. The film does not force emotion down your throat unlike some of its contemporaries (yes, War Horse we’re talking about you) but instead uses the personal, the individual and the un-epic nuances of human life to create a real connection with the viewer. This connection allows us to immerse ourselves into the empty parlours and sun-bleached corn fields of rural life. Being a Hollywood film, everyone in this village of course speaks in RP English but the visuals, for example the bombing scenes, make up for this in their realism; we feel the fear as if we were one of the crowd. Overall the film works well because of the dual narratives. Yes, you have a love story, but you also have a complex depiction of a village in flux, torn between hatred and understanding.