Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 8.5/10
Cast: Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott Thomas, Matthais Schoenaerts, Sam Riley, Ruth Wilson, Margot Robbie, Harriet Walter, Eileen Atkins, Lambert Wilson, Tom Schilling, Clare Holman, Deborah Findlay, Eric Godon, Simon Dutton, Diana Kent, Juliet Howland, Nicholas Chagrin.
As the 21st Century grumbles on and the further we move away from the period of time in which our grandparents gave up on almost everything except hope, the more the apathy to maintaining the struggle against oppression grows more weary. In some cases it is possible to hear some people state out loud, “Shouldn’t we forget all this now?” Yet stories from the Second World War continue to surface and perhaps none more startling in recent years than that of Irène Némirovsky and her posthumously published unfinished novel Suite Française.
With the writer being sent to Auschwitz during the Second World War, her novel may well have laid undiscovered and unknown forever, thankfully Suite Française, a tale of one woman’s resistance and act of bravery against the horrors of occupation, was found by her daughter and from that this very decent film was able to breathe.
With France having suffered a crippling, almost humiliating swift defeat at the hands of the German war machine in the first few weeks of the conflict, life for many, especially outside of Paris, was born of resentment and turmoil. With very few men around, life had become hard and naturally for some young women, nature started to take a hand in matters.
Michelle Williams continues to impress as her roles are built on the reality of capturing emotion and making the audience believe in the stark resolution of the soul. She may not have had many film roles since 2011’s My Week With Marilyn but in Take This Waltz, Oz the Great and Powerful and now as Lucile Angellier in Suite Française, she has delighted and been seen to show her gift with scintillating determination. Being henpecked and bullied by Kristen Scott Thomas, herself on top form, has bought out a different quality to her performance though, one in which was perhaps hinted at but never given time to develop in Take This Waltz, one of simmering anger, an emotion that serves notice well as her character takes it into her own hands in which to do the decent thing and stop hiding behind her socialistic values.
With the film largely graced by the fact that it the women who carry the narrative, the opposing forces of Belgian actor Matthais Schoenaerts as the former composer turned soldier Bruno Van Falk and Sam Riley as French farmer Benoit give Suite Française the truth of war and conquest its brutal meaning. Sam Riley especially, frames the feeling of the inadequate resistance offered in some quarters and whose plight as he turns to theft to support his family is where the film does itself justice in its 180 degree turn.
Arguably, not since he took on the role as Jack Kerouac/Sal Paradise in the screen version of On The Road, has Mr. Riley given such a performance. Whilst not being the main lead as he was in On The Road, his natural talent shone through with incredible ease and warmth and despite Benoit’s future being one in which many brave Frenchmen found themselves in, Sam Riley carries the sense of hope with pride.
Suite Française shows once more that there was another side to the waste that was inflicted upon generations during the Second World War, that life for many still had to have some meaning, some vestige of hope in a Europe that was shrouded in a veil of black and love, no matter the divide, had to contain something that would see people through. Hope was the greatest commodity that many had and Suite Française strips that away at first but then returns it in abundance.
Moving, purposeful and adding another truth to something that should never be forgotten, Suite Française is in the realm of films such as Black Book and Defiance, something tangible in a world still shrouded in that gossamer veil.
Ian D. Hall