Suite Française (Movie Review 2014)

3 Kernels

Currently streaming on Netflix is Suite Française a 2014 movie set in occupied France in 1940. It’s based on a novel written by Irène Némirovsky, a Jewish author, born in the Ukraine but lived and worked in France. Irène died in Auschwitz during the war, but her handwritten manuscript had later been discovered and finally published in 2004. The movie was released in the UK and subsequently premiered in the U.S. only on Lifetime. Thankfully, Netflix picked it up, giving us the opportunity to watch the story unfold.

Michelle Williams plays Lucile Angellier, the wife of a prominent and rich man who is a prisoner of war.  She lives with her mother-in-law, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, who is more intent on collecting the rents from her land tenants than caring about the impending German invasion.  It’s obvious that the relationship between the two is strained.

When the Germans march into their town and settle into homes to carry out their duties, Lucile and the Madame are assigned Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (played by the dreamy Matthias Schoenaerts who apparently learned German for the role). He settles in, behaving more like a polite gentleman rather than an overbearing and cruel occupier. Lucile, though she attempts to stay away from him, becomes intrigued by his personality as their interaction continue. Even though he’s the enemy, he’s a fascinating human being who she discovers is more than a soldier doing his duty. He’s kind, musically inclined, and writes music.

Since he appears to be as intrigued by Lucile, an unspoken admiration builds between the two until a passionate but interrupted moment occurs between them. Unfortunately, war is war, and these two people are on opposite sides of the conflict – the conquered and the defeated. When the war brings her to the decision to take a huge risk on behalf of one of their tenants, it threatens to destroy their love.

The film is well acted. A few scenes show the senseless cruelty and brutality of occupation and the difficult choices the Lieutenant must make in performing his duties. It’s an interesting study, too, in human behavior of the townspeople by the actions they take to stay on the good side of the Germans in implicating others. Loyalties are split. It also raises the question of what would you do in such a situation? Could you fall in love with the enemy?  Would you trust his love while you act treacherousy against his country and cause?

Is there a happy ending? Well, based on the unfortunate situation, love everlasting isn’t in the stars for these two people.  At the end, the narrator states that words of love were never spoken, but it became obvious they were shown by each other’s actions.

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