Suite Française is a different enough war story to be interesting for that reason alone, but it’s also beautifully well-done and acted. Beware the spoilers.
Suite Française is based on a book written by Irène Némirovsky and lost for 60 years. It tells a story of forbidden love during World War II in occupied France.
Michelle Williams stars as the main character Lucile. When the story opens, she’s living with her mother-in-law Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas). Her mother-in-law appears hard and uncaring at first, but as the story progresses we see more clearly that she is capable of caring. Lucile’s husband is a prisoner of war. She and her mother-in-law drive around the countryside collecting rent from the farmers working on their land.
Into this bucolic village life stream refugees from the early bombings in Paris. The Germans are soon in control of France. German soldiers arrive in their village. They move into the homes of the villagers. Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) moves into the Angellier home.
Bruno von Falk is a refined man, he composes music on the Angellier’s piano. Lucile is attracted to him almost immediately. He returns her feelings, but there are many complications.
One of those complications involves the Labarie family. Benoit Labarie (Sam Riley) and his wife Madeleine (Ruth Wilson) have a real swine of a soldier living on their farm: Lieutenant Kurt Bonnet (Tom Schilling).
Beniot and Kurt Bonnet get into a scuffle. Bonnet is killed. Beniot runs. Madeleine begs Lucile to help her and she does. She finds Beniot in the woods. Madame Angellier hides him a hidden room of her home. The Germans search everywhere for him but do not find him. They do find a Jewish woman. She is beaten and probably killed or sent away. But her daughter escapes and Madame Angellier hides her too.
The Germans announce that area Vicount (Lambert Wilson) will be shot if they don’t find Beniot.
The moral choice by those who know where Beniot is hiding is horrible. Yet Beniot, Lucile and Madame Angellier allow the execution to happen. Bruno von Falk is in command of the firing squad.
This is a pivotal moment in Suite Française. Lucile is sickened by realizing she has feelings for the enemy. Bruno is sickened by his part in the execution. Both realize how doomed their situation is.
Lucile decides to sneak Beniot to Paris where he can join the resistance. She gets a travel pass from Bruno. Beniot is hidden in the trunk of the car. Neither of them realize until too late a note was put in the pass by another soldier instructing the officers at the checkpoint to search the car.
Beniot shoots two more officers at the checkpoint. He is wounded himself. Then Bruno arrives on a motorcycle. He hoped to warn them. He lets them go on. The last scene is them driving away from the checkpoint. In voice over, Lucile says that she stays in Paris and fights in the resistance, too.
In a time of war, every emotion is heightened. The cast – particularly Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts – handled this beautifully. It was a large cast. Even so, the story was confined to small, personal moments. It wasn’t a grand epic of war. It was about desire and personal conflict, and moral choices that affect the lives of others.
Suite Française is streaming on Netflix.
The trivia for the film at IMBD, tells this story: “The movie is based on Irène Némirovsky’s unfinished book “Suite Française” and focuses on the novel “Dolce”. The book was only found after Némirovsky’s death at a concentration camp in Auschwitz in 1942. Her elder daughter, Denise Epstein, kept the notebook containing the manuscript of Suite Française for fifty years without reading it, believing that it would be a journal or diary too painful to read. In the late 1990s, however, having made arrangements to donate her mother’s papers to a French archive, Denise decided to examine the notebook first. At last discovering what it contained, she instead had it published in France, where it became a bestseller in 2004.”