Faithful adaptation of jewish diarist's life in WW2
SUITE FRANCAISE (15)
Heartbreaking truth is more compelling than fiction in Suite Francaise, Saul Dibb's faithful adaptation of the novella Dolce by Irene Nemirovsky.
Penned by Nemirovsky, a French Jew, in the early 1940s, Dolce was supposed to be the second instalment of a five-book series documenting life under German occupation and the rise of the Communist resistance.
Shortly after completing the second tome, the author was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where she died, leaving behind a journal filled with finished work, detailed notes for a third book and provisional titles for the concluding instalments.
More than 50 years later, Nemirovsky's daughter pored through her mother's diary and gave her blessing to the publication of books one and two, Tempete En Juin (Storm In June) and Dolce, as a single volume.
Dibb's picture concludes with moving testimony to the author, providing an emotional kick that is sadly lacking from the rest of his handsomely crafted tale of forbidden love in a time of conflict.
Suite Francaise opens with grainy black and white news footage of the German advance in June 1940 then bleeds into full colour as the narrative moves to the bucolic town of Bussy, east of the capital.
Madame Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas), whose son has enlisted, ignores the spectre of war to collect rent from cash-strapped tenants, aided by her daughter-in-law Lucile (Michelle Williams).
On the road, they encounter refugees, who have fled Paris in the futile hope of outrunning Hitler's troops.
Soon after, the Germans arrive and commander Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) is billeted with the Angelliers.
'There was a relief in his presence after months of silence,' poetically remarks Lucile, who shares the handsome officer's love for music.
While the Viscount (Lambert Wilson) and Viscountess de Montmort (Harriet Walter) curry favour with the occupying force, farmer Benoit Sabarie (Sam Riley) and his wife Madeleine (Ruth Wilson) suffer the presence of billeted German officer Kurt Bonnet (Tom Schilling), who makes clear his libidinous interest in the wife.
Tempers flare at the Sabarie farmhouse while pulses quicken under Madame Angellier's roof as Lucile and Bruno surrender to desire.
They keep the affair secret from the fearsome Madame - 'She could scare away the plague!' quips Bruno - but they cannot keep their illicit liaisons hidden forever.
Suite Francaise is a well-crafted yet emotionally underpowered portrait of a community torn apart by prejudice and suspicion.
Thomas delivers another steely turn as a woman of substance, who refuses to bend to the Germans' might, while on-screen chemistry between Williams and Schoenaerts remains at a gentle simmer.
At the beginning of the film, Dibb orchestrates one decent action sequence - German planes dive-bombing French refugees - then settles into a pedestrian pace, echoed in the languid voiceover narration.