Friday, March 13, 2015

Suite Française starring Michelle Williams opens in the UK today: When in the world will we see it?


Some days it feels like no matter how far away you and I are, whether you're a fellow Californian or checking in from Sydney, Australia or reading this in Russia, the movies that we're interested in connect us, bringing us together in one big global village.

And then there are those other days. Days like today when I learn another movie I've been watching for, a film that's still lacking a US release date is opening somewhere in the world —but not here—and I just have to ask what in the world is going on? You would think a film that comes with Michelle Williams, Kristin Scott Thomas, Matthew Schoenaerts and includes newerbies (made that up) Margo Robbie and Sam Riley attached would be a no-brainer but here in the states, lately it feels like if it doesn't begin with Marvel or promise a lot of mind-blurring action, if it has a difficult, emotionally charged story; it's almost guaranteed to have a difficult time finding American distribution. I'm hoping the success of small films like Still Alice, Whiplash and Boyhood will change that; we'll see because for now most of the movie chatter is about female Ghostbusters and Avengers: Age of Ultron.


In Suite Francaise, Williams plays Lucille Angelier, a young French provincial wife of a brutish husband, away fighting for France, while she struggles to get by under the disapproving eyes of her mother-in-law played by Kristin Scott Thomas. Set in 1940, the little village of Bussy, like so many villages at the time, is occupied by the invading Germans; when a kind and cultured young German officer, Bruno Von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) who reads Balzac and plays the piano beautifully, moves into the home Lucille shares with her mother in law, the two slowly fall in love. Sam Riley and Margo Robbie play Celine and Benoit, another couple housing a German soldier.

Based on 'Dolce', the second part of Irene Nemirovsky's World War II novel, Suite Française was released in Italy yesterday, comes out in the UK and Ireland today, March 13, and opens in France on April 1st. Check to see when you'll be able to get your ticket to see the film in your country here; sorry Canada and Australia. Like the good ol US of A, it looks like you'll have to wait! Can you hear me sighing? Suite Française will probably pop up on my Netflix stream one day without fanfare, another film with a weighty storyline, left to flounder.


Directed by British film-maker Saul Dibb (The Duchess), the focus of the screen adaptation of Suite Française is on the second part of what Nemirovsky intended as a five part book. Nemirovsky, whose own tragic life story would make for a fascinating film, was a Jewish author from the Ukraine who settled in Paris in 1919. She was a successful member of the French literary scene, publishing twelve novels and a biography of Chekhov. While she had converted to Catholicism she was arrested by the Nazis as a 'stateless person of Jewish descent' and sent to Auschwitz on July 13, 1942. She died, a little over a month later, at age 39 in the infirmary. Her husband was sent to the gas chamber several months later. Incredibly, Nemirov must have written Suite Française almost concurrently with the German occupation of France and the horrendous events of the time; her novel, written in tiny script in a leather-bound journal was left behind and untouched by her daughter who was afraid to read it, fearing the words would bring too much pain. She finally read the unfinished manuscript in the late 1990's and the novel was published in France in 2004, where it became an instant best-seller.


Michelle Williams says the movie is "entirely dedicated and a tribute to Irene Nerimovsky and her descendants."
"It's quite overwhelming, the level of emotion you feel when you even think about Irene's story as it's more extraordinary than anything she wrote, even Suite Francaise. 
As soon as I read the script, I could see Irene, and hear her voice around me. It very rarely happens, but her words sounded like music to me.
You want to be true to that person, and in this case, I wanted to be faithful to Irene. The fact that this story was very nearly never published makes it more precious."

Regretting that Nemirov's daughter died in 2013, "just before we made the film, and so I never got to meet her," Williams calls meeting the author's descendants "the most special day of filming; they came to the set, and it was emotional for everyone".


While Nemirovsky didn't write explicitly about what was happening to her fellow Jews, director Saul Dibb notes
"-in our film version, we have a moment where you do see what is happening to the Jewish people, and that was our own tribute to the fate of Irene."
Dibb explains that adding those scenes was "a necessary piece of artistic licence".
"Irene wrote so generously about her occupiers. The book was written in 1940, in the early stages of the war, and she doesn't even refer to them as Nazis. She had no perspective on what happened to her people, and what happened to France. However, she was killed by her occupiers, and killed by those French collaborators too, who helped deport their Jewish populations."

Some readers of the book may be disappointed that the novel's first story—an almost completely different cast of characters—doesn't make it into the movie but Williams understands there would be no easy way to connect the two narratives.
"I'm glad they chose Lucille's love story - I think many people will identify with the story of love in hopeless circumstances. 
But what's also interesting for me is my character starts out as fragile and naïve, and becomes a revolutionary. The circumstances we live in dictate who we become.
 I'm just sorry that I never got to see or hold the original manuscript of the book, and actually see Irene's writing, although I do have a first edition of the book. But I hope we have also helped her to live on."

Source: New York Times,  BBC News


More on Suite Française

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