Film Review: “Suite Française”

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Suite française, 2015

dir. Saul Dibb

★★★☆☆

I love films about the Second World War. And I love romantic dramas. I really do. So when I looked at the IMDb page for this film (after having seen the adverts on the sides of buses for three weeks), and finding out that it was about a French woman and a German soldier falling in love against ALL ODDS in OCCUPIED FRANCE during the BEGINNING of WWII, I thought “blimey this HAS to be the best thing ever, right?”. Well. No, turned out. Not really.

It has great elements to it, and interesting characters, but there is somethinglacking. Or perhaps it’s just the fact that all the French people sound British, while the Germans sound British-with-a-bit-of-German-accent.

Michelle Williams delivers a toneless performance as the lead female, Lucille, whose husband has been sent to the front and left her living with her strict mother-in-law. Her short-lived romance with German officer Bruno von Falk (Matthias Shoenaerts) feels rushed and it is just as insipid as it is unsurprising, and it is easily forgettable as the film shifts to other more interesting characters.

Moreover, brilliant actors go mostly unused, as they stand aside and say their lines, and move along so that we can see what else is happening to Lucille’s nonsensical romance. Kristin Scott Thomas (aka the reason I went to see this in the first place) is fantastic as the mother-in-law Madame Angellier, and she shows remarkable character development (or perhaps we just get to know this character a little better) by the end. The same with Ruth Wilson (Madeleine) and Margo Robbie (Celine), who are fantastic in their roles as young farming villagers, but are cast aside easily for the sake of the romantic plot, which is simply a disservice to these character, who are all far more interesting and well-rounded as poor Lucille living in a big house not able to play her piano and lusting over a German dude.

I mean, really. [insert eye-roll]

And in the end, so many questions go unanswered. What happens to Benoit (Sam Riley) and Lucille? Did Gaston escape the labour camp? What happens to Anna’s mother? Does Madeleine make it without Benoit? And what about Celine? The narrator barely gives away her own ending, let alone those of the rest of the characters, and perhaps that is because the series of novels upon which this was based remained unfinished, but surely the screenwriters could have taken some liberties to at least ensure that there was some modicum of closure? Not a happy ending per se, but even an ending like in Casablanca, where at least we know these characters were headed somewhere.

Anyway, while the story is not much to talk about, the film does look quite good. Nothing extraordinary, just nice-looking, really. Though some shots were a bit weird, but I won’t nit-pick.

So, if you’re into WWII romances, you should probably head elsewhere, because as romances go, this is unsatisfactory. And as WWII films this is also dull, as it presents none of the marks that make a good war film (like the shocking sights of the ravaged European villages in Saving Private Ryan, for instance.) If you have a bit of time to kill in a cold afternoon, this is a pleasant watch, but it won’t leave a mark, which is a shame because it did have some potential.

review by Mariana Duarte

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