Saul Dibb’s (The Duchess) film adaptation of Suite Française dramatically compresses the many strands of Irène Némirovsky’s incomplete World War II novel, discovered by her daughter after her death and published to great acclaim in 2004. Némirovsky intended to write five parts dealing with the tumult of war but only completed two novellas—she died in Auschwitz in 1942. In the second, Dolce, she created a vivid portrait of a provincial French town, Bussy, through the various reactions of its citizens to the German occupation. In their adaptation, Dibb and co-screenwriter Matt Charman concentrate on Dolce and the love affair between Lucille Angellier (Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn) and Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts, The Danish Girl, Far from the Madding Crowd, Rust and Bone).
Bruno is a young German officer billeted in the house of Lucille’s overbearing mother-in-law Mme Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas, The Invisible Woman, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), a calculating land owner who tries to use the occupation to her best advantage. They share a passion for classical music and this is what brings them together. Before the war, Bruno was a composer and he asks to play Lucille’s piano. As a cautious love blossoms between the pair, tensions in the town escalate and Bruno is increasingly called upon to dispense rough justice. Things come to a head when a German officer is fatally shot and one of Lucille’s neighbours is forced on the run.
“While it may not appeal to purists, purging some of Némirovsky’s complex characterisation and finer detail serves the film well. Charman and Dibb hold on to the spirit of the original and its uncomfortable exploration of collaboration and betrayal.” (Lucy Popescu, CineVue)
“Suite Francaise exudes a sense of glossy class in its design, staging and costumes and its lead actress Michelle Williams is especially fine, responding perfectly to a role that could have been tricky.” (Mark Adams, Screen International)
“This nuanced, compelling film offers a close-up portrait of a northern French village forced to host a garrison of Nazi soldiers.” (Cath Clarke, Time Out)