Starring: Michelle Williams, Matthias Schoenarts, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Saul Dibb
Running Time: 107 mins
Suite Française is a British film about a French woman who finds herself torn during the German occupation of her small village, as she falls in love with a German soldier.
As elegant and quaint as this film is, filled with beautiful costume and production design, I have to say that it’s by no means the most engrossing watch. Despite its fascinating historical setting and opportunity for high drama and tension, it’s a film that’s unfortunately all too willing to sith with something a lot more simplistic, and lot less interesting, getting bogged down in a dull romance story that misses the real potential for intrigue.
As is perfectly obvious from its presence in the movie world, the Second World War is a fascinating period of history that is just as important to tell as it has ever been. In that, there is so much to learn about and analyse when focusing on the conflcit in film, yet there often isn’t enough attention lent to ordinary citizens caught up in the fighting, with the majority of popular WWII films focusing on the brave soldiers that fought in battles across the world.
Suite Française, however, lends its attention to the livelihoods of the people of France when their country becomes occupied by the German forces at the beginning of the war, and that’s an interesting opportunity to examine a different side of the war, mostly how normal people dealt with the nature of conflict, and particularly what to do when all hope seems to be lost.
And that’s where my issues with this film come in. The film focuses on the relationship between the occupying German soldiers and the locals of a small French town, and yet there’s nowhere near enough tension between the two sides on display, as would clearly be the case in real life.
The film’s first act establishes some of the characters’ positions on the occupation, with Kristin Scott Thomas an icy and aggressively anti-Nazi woman, and her daughter, played by Michelle Williams, stuck between that ideology, and one that breaks through those soldiers to see them as real people.
Their respective opinions do change over the course of the film, but only in favour of the occupiers, thereby dulling the frighteningly authoritarian nature of what’s really going on: a military occupation.
And in its place? Well, a frustratingly generic and underwhelming love story between the young French woman and a German lieutenant, where we see the two leads shake off their differences far too easily, and with the exception of a brief bump in the road, their story is overly simplistic, and has nowhere near enough dramatic and emotional unpredictability that really could have been brought in given the film’s setting.
That’s why I found Suite Française a frustrating and often boring watch. With that said, I did admire its visuals, with the production design in particular standing out, while director Saul Dibb occasionally gives the film a strong air of elegance that makes the romance seem a little more spectacular than is actually the case, all making the film a little more watchable throughout.
Overall, though I wasn’t too impressed with this film. It may have the atmosphere to go with its story, and although it looks good from the outside, it’s a story that just doesn’t utilise the potential of what really happend (even if it is a true story), and that’s why I’m giving Suite Française a 6.9.