IRENE Nemirovsky was killed by the Nazis long before she could see her work published.
Now 63 years after her death, her book Suite Francaise, published for the first time in 2004, has now been adapted into a film, both impressive and engaging.
The film focuses on the Nazi occupation of France of 1940 where Lucille Angellier (Michelle Williams) awaits for news of her husband’s fate on the front.
Living with her deadpan mother-in-law Madame Angellier (Kristen Scott-Thomas), morale for herself and the townsfolk is at an understandable all-time low, though things are made complicated when officers are assigned to live with the townsfolk in their own homes.
Commander Bruno (Matthias Schoenaerts) is assigned to the Angellier quarters, and one can cut the tension with a knife when he, despite his politeness, first greets the ladies of the house.
The hatred Madame Angellier has for the officers is understandably high, ordering Lucille not to even look at the addition to the house. The hatred only increases when it turns out later that her son is now a prisoner-of-war.
On the contrary, Lucille, despite her valiant attempts to ignore him, appears intrigued by Bruno. Eventually, in spite of their respective duties, both find themselves falling in love.
Coupled with this is the lifestyle of Lucille’s friend Madeline (Ruth Wilson). It is apparent that the officer assigned to her (Tom Schilling), a contrast to the more courteous Bruno, has his eye for her though the main problem is that not only is she also married but the husband Benoit (Sam Riley) still lives with her.
Unable to fight due to a leg injury, he is practically reduced to watching the flirtatious behaviour and continuously antagonised. Events then lead to the film turning from a romantic drama to a deadly cat-and-mouse thriller involving the main characters where vulnerability is key.
This is a very enjoyable drama which succeeds largely to its talented cast of European and American actors and writing. Williams is an actress who is obviously going to win an Oscar in the future and her portrayal of confliction is well presented, while Scott-Thomas adds another diverse performance to her wholly impressive career.
Schoenaerts is probably the actor who impresses more. He quickly convinces the viewer that though on the opposition, he is not there for conflict and as his back story as a composer is detailed, it seems that an Amon Goeth-type is one he is clearly not. Playing a reluctant authoritarian figure, this will likely go some way to point Schoenaerts, who has already shown his talent with roles in Bullhead and Rust and Bone, as having the potential to become one of Europe’s most talented actors.
The film also works because of the diversity of the events that take place in the film. Rather than just focusing on the events of the two lead characters, time is also spent to show how in a town filled with dilemma and judgements, those affecting Lucille do not have to be the only ones that can be shown. The storyline revolving around Benoit’s one-man revolt against the Nazis plays as one where intrigue is a key feature because one is left to query what is going to take place as a result and whether he can get away with it.
As a thriller, it is wholly intense. The opening sequence of the townsfolk desperately running for their lives in a corn field to avoid an attacking German plane is directed with chilling effectiveness while a series of sequences that dominate the second half of the film are gripping and heart-pounding to watch.
Suite Francaise is a highly entertaining drama that works thanks to its range of characters well performed by its actors, a writing of diverse situations and a direction from Saul Dibb that suits the war genre well. A second view would be deserved.