Written by Yosra Osman

Arts

A rather bland love affair

Yosra Osman took a look at Michelle Williams’ latest outing, Suite Française.

Still from Suite Française

Photo by The Weinstein Company

Here’s a war film, with the added lure of a forbidden love. Interested? Maybe not, but Saul Dibb’s Suite Française at least has an interesting backstory.

Michelle Williams plays Lucille Angellier, a French woman living in the small village of Bussy. Her husband is missing at war and she unhappily lives with her fearsome mother-in-law, Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas). When the family has to accept German officer Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) as a house guest in their home, romance starts to blossom.

Suite Française’s trailer may scream epic wartime love story, but in actual fact the love story is one of the least interesting things about it. Far more interesting is the story behind the film, which is adapted from Irène Némirovsky’s novel of the same name. Némirovsky, a Jew living in Issy-L’Evêque, originally intended to write Suite Française as a five-part saga in the summer of 1941, but only managed two parts before she was arrested and transported to Auschwitz a year later. The manuscripts were kept in a suitcase until they were discovered and the novel became a worldwide hit when it was published in 2004. I haven’t read it, but the general consensus tells me Suite Française might be a case of ‘the book’s better than the film’.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think it was anywhere near as dull as some film critics would have you believe. The film looks beautiful and there’s enough interest in some of the back stories to tide over the more clichéd love plot. You’ve also got the ever-wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas, who steals every scene she’s in as a bitter, ill-tempered and unpleasant woman hiding anxiety and grief. It’s a shame her character dissolves into the background once we pass the halfway point.

I’m normally a sucker for a good romance, but I couldn’t help but find the central affair between Williams and Schoenaerts a little bland. At the very least, if we have to witness the ongoing romance between bored French housewife and hunky-but-sensitive German soldier, it would have been nice for the characters to have some more depth. Williams and Schoenaerts do what they can, but I found myself paying more attention to the bitter struggles in the background than their oh-so-pained, loving looks. The few reminders that a war was actually happening were just that bit more thought-provoking.

For an evening trip to the cinema, Suite Française is engaging enough to keep you entertained, but I wouldn’t expect a captivating romantic drama. If anything, I’ve now made a firm mental note to read the book.

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Written by Yosra Osman

Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions