What a strange feeling it must be to wake up one morning in your own bed in your own home in your own town, and yet nothing is familiar… Suite Française captures what it must have been like to live under occupation in France during the war. It is a captivating story about Lucille, a soft-hearted woman played by Michelle Phillips, whose husband is a prisoner of war. She lives with her severe, controlling mother-in-law, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. The two of them are in the middle of collecting rents from their tenants when the war suddenly comes to town. Over the next few months everything these people thought they knew about themselves and each other changes. German officers are billeted out to homes of villagers, some of whom have vindictively written letters denouncing neighbours while others accuse sympathizers in the street of liaising with Germans. After Lucille discovers the truth about her husband she begins to fall in love with the sensitive music-loving german officer who lives under their roof until the self-centred mayor’s wife sets in motion a series of events that rips the town apart.
At the end of the film a synopsis about the author is given that is difficult to read — it is based on an unfinished manuscript by Irène Némirovsky, a Ukranian Jew who died in Auschwitz. The hand written pages were rediscovered by her daughter in the bottom of a suitcase, and published in 2004.
This is a tale of everyday people trying to cope in their unrecognizable world. It is also one of the most beautifully authentic films I have ever seen of this era. Every aspect from costumes and hairstyles to sets and streetscapes captures occupied France in the summer of 1940. The costumer is Michael O’Connor (I’m a bit of a fan…), every film he has touched has become a work of art, and Suite Française is no exception.