Take a Drink: whenever a townsperson screws over a fellow Frenchman
Take a Drink: for piano
Take a Drink: for salacious secrets
Take a Drink: for class conflict
Do a Shot: Nazi skinny-dipping party!
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
In 1998, the daughter of Auschwitz victim Irene Nemirovsky finally opened a small notebook she believed to be her mother’s diary- a document she thought would be too painful to ever read. Instead, what she found was an unfinished three-part novel about the early days of World War II after the fall of Paris, written as the events themselves occurred, in uncommonly delicate and intuitive prose. Suite Francaise was a masterpiece, unacknowledged for nearly five decades.
Suite Francaise the film adapts the most Hollywood-friendly portion of the two novels that were completed- the story of a young woman (Michelle Williams) living with her cruel step-mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) who finds herself strangely drawn to a sensitive member of the occupying Nazi force (Mathias Schoenaerts). Before you get up in arms about a romance with a Nazi, however…
… consider how you’ve made their hairstyle inexplicably fashionable again.
Saul Dibb is the poor man’s Tom Hooper, for good and ill. On the former side, you know that a Dibb production will undoubtedly be a handsome one, and this is no exception to the rule. All elements, from period accouterments to French farmhouses, are first rate and feel lived in. Dibb and DP Eduard Grau’s cinematography is also very slick, particularly the way they incorporate handheld camerawork to create a sense of urgency and immediacy.
The cast is also top-notch, and do their best to imbue their literary characters with subtlety and inner lives. Schoenaerts continues his ascension into one of Hollywood’s most undersung but versatile leading men, and Williams and Scott Thomas are their typical excellent selves, but Sam Riley’s hotheaded former and Tom Schilling’s perfect weasel of a Nazi were the students to me.
Also, Margo Robbie’s under all that hair, HAIR, BEAUTIFUL HAIR
Finally, the story itself shines when it delves into Nemirovsky’s more grey-hued depiction of occupier and occupied. the way the Nazis presence heightens the class differences and petty feuds of the villagers is fascinating, and true to Nemirovsky’s perceptive, complicated depiction of characters drawn from her own real life experiences.
To bad that subtle touch could not have been extended to the rest of the script. Somehow Dibb and cowriter Matt Charman boil down Nemirovsky’s nuanced novel into a boilerplate Hollywood forbidden romance, built around only the most predictable story beats. That was the least interesting portion of Suite Francaise the book, too, of course.
He plays piano! But he’s a Nazi! But he plays piano!
Dibb’s goal was to deliver a film “very far from a safe, stuffy period piece.” Well… there’s nudity-free sex, nudity-full Nazi bathers, and a little bit of stage blood. There’s also frequent voiceover used to set the scene and tell us Williams’s thoughts. I’ll let you determine which one speaks stronger to whether he accomplished his goal.
Suite Francaise is a safe, stuffy period piece… well, shit. Sorry, Saul.