During the early years of German occupation of France in World War II, romance blooms between Lucille Angellier, a French villager and Bruno von Falk, a German soldier.
Based on a true story, ‘Suite Francaise’ is a period drama set in the Second World War in France during the German occupation. The film focuses on how the residents of the town of Bussy adapt to the German soldiers occupying the town, with the primary viewpoint coming from a young landowner, Lucille (Michelle Williams). Ostensibly the film is about her relationship with one of the German Commanders, Bruno (Matthias Schoenaerts, who moves into their house.
In the leading role, Michelle Williams is low key and understated, successfully keeping her feelings under wraps in an environment where secrecy is of the utmost importance. Opposite her, Matthias Schoenaerts puts in the best performance of the film as the conflicted German officer Bruno. Schoenaerts is an actor who I’ve only discovered in the last couple of years thanks to strong performances in films such as ‘Bullhead’, ‘Rust and Bone’ and ‘The Drop’, and he continues to impress. His imposing figure suggests a rage inside and the intensity he puts into his performances make him an actor who you can’t take your eyes off – a real movie star if you will. The relationship between Lucille and Bruno builds on the theme that these people are ordinary men and women thrown together by the circumstance of war, with the way they must act and behave dictated by the actions of others. The film explores this to an extent, but it’s been done better in other films. In addition to the central duo, there is strong support from the likes of Margot Robbie, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Sam Riley and Ruth Wilson.
The film feels a little meandering in the early stages, with the romantic plot not kicking into gear and the occupation not driving as much drama as one would expect from the World War Two setting. It does gain a bit of momentum once Benoit (Sam Riley) lets his anger spill over, with the thriller aspects derived from this moment helping to bring the film to life and lead to a strong finish with all characters backed into a corner and forced to make difficult decisions. The film is set in France but everyone spoke English due to the cast (although the non-main cast German soldiers spoke German), which took me out of the film a little bit. In the past, it was common practice to make films set on foreign soil in this manner, but I did think it hindered the realism of the film and perhaps a subtitled approach would have felt more natural (albeit I’m sure the studio would disagree, as would the mostly English speaking cast!)
Overall ‘Suite Francaise’ is a well acted war period drama, but in a genre saturated with many excellent war films from different perspectives, it’s not one that’s likely to be remembered.
Directed By: Saul Dibb
Starring: Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Riley, Ruth Wilson, Margot Robbie and Lambert Wilson