SUITE FRANCAISE REVIEW

suitefrancaise

Zuts alors! I’ve seen more drama and heartbreak in an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo!

Two stars for two charismatic leads.

During the early years of German occupation of France in World War II, romance blooms between French villager Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams) and German soldier Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Such a shame. I really wanted to like this. It’s not all bad. Just a little disappointing.

For all the hype, I expected something more hard hitting.

The opening 15 minutes were slow burning BUT engaging. The archive footage showing German bombers descending upon Paris. Evacuees fleeing to the countryside in fear and desperation.

Williams’ shy protagonist and her uptight mother in law (Kristin Scott Thomas) trying to stick to their daily routine of collecting rent from their tenants. The tenants including several rather talented actors. Shame they weren’t used to their full potential.

Thomas (The English Patient) was good as the snobby sour faced mother-in-law. Stuck with a daughter who wasn’t fit to marry her valiant son and despised by the tenants for her ever-inflating rates.

However, there is also a little respect for her refusal to accept that the advancing Nazis are encroaching upon their village.

Williams (My Week With Marilyn) was excellent. She played the naive Lucile perfectly. Desperate to have a friend. Reduced to playing for a few minutes on the piano for leisure.

A harrowing bombing sequence in the countryside was unexpected and heart in mouth stuff. Villagers running for their lives. The Nazis showing no mercy. The silence through the aftermath was unsettling.

However, it seemed to take some time for the Nazi regiment to turn up. Despite the radio broadcast declaring France’s surrender. We are left with mindless chatter with the villagers about what the Germans might do.

The sound of the tanks and footsteps from the soldiers was brilliantly juxtaposed against the church singing as the regiment finally arrive.

Schonaerts (The Drop) made an instant impression. A well mannered officer who only wants a room to sleep and the key to the piano.

I expected the inevitable relationship between Williams and Schoenarts to take some time. BUT there wasn’t much else going on in the hour while this innocent encounter blossomed.

The leads had great chemistry and certainly kept me watching.

That’s not to say there wasn’t things going on BUT I couldn’t help question a few of them.

I felt the mish mesh of accents a little off putting. Considering Thomas is fluent in French, I expected her to see to speak a little of it. The only actor who did speak another language other than the Nazis was Lambert Wilson’s (The Matrix Reloaded) Viscount.

Ruth Wilson’s (Luther) broad English and Margot Robbie’s Aussie-Brit accent were a little annoying but alas, that’s Hollywood for you.

Speaking of which, Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street). I couldn’t help but question her relevance by the end of the film. Other than modelling a fetching set of silk stockings that every villager commented on and scowling, she doesn’t actually do anything or contribute to the story in any capacity.

There were a couple of interesting turns. The bureaucracy jibes being one particular highlight. Wilson’s snobby Viscount desperately bribing the Nazi commander just so his wife doesn’t have to keep an officer at their home.

The letters of gossip that were sent to the Nazis to settle old scores among the villagers was an eye opener. Accusing neighbours of being homosexuals, Jews and thieves. Shocking.

Tom Schilling’s introduction as Lieutenant Kurt Bonnet certainly picked things up. His presence soon becomes a problem for Wilson and Sam Riley’s (Control) family. Riley was quite good as Benoit Labarie.

The inevitable tension between him and Bonnet brewing up to a riveting if highly predictable finale.

But for the 107 minute running length, I felt myself wanting more.

Lucile and Bruno’s relationship was dealt with tactfully. Their brewing romance bubbling over music. Lucille’s loyalties soon torn as she finds herself in a position of power to help the community by using Bruno’s feelings for her.

That dynamic was quite interesting BUT not a lot was made of it. Some of the villagers respecting her for the help. Others disgusted for her affiliation with the enemy.

It certainly captures the humanity behind a brutal war and their relationship certainly carried the film.

BUT it seemed to build to a frantic finale after such a juddery pace. Only for it to end so abruptly with Lucile providing a voiceover summarizing what happened after the war.

Thomas was pushed further and further into the background despite being one of the more interesting characters in the piece.

The ending was quite pessimistic without spoiling too much. I understand that there are no happy endings when it comes to war. BUT it was too open ended for my liking.

Arguably, it was as poignant a statement for the time but when you have invested your time into these characters, a little closure (no matter how open or ridiculous) would have been nice.

It was tough not to make comparisons to other war dramas. I still find The Book Thief one of the better war dramas that I have seen in the last few years.

I kept expecting something more to happen. A bigger impact. Anything.

It was all left until the final 15 minutes and then didn’t wrap up well enough.

Disappointing.

2.5/5

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The Monuments Men Review

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Not a monument that will stand the lengths of time in the huge backlog of war classics we’ve had before. It checked all the boxes but failed to deliver anything new or interesting. Hardly a bomb site, but it lacked the right execution for this operation.

George Clooney takes the helm yet again in an ambitious war effort that just fails to hit the mark. The Monuments Men is based on a real operation that was approved by President Roosevelt himself to help retrieve stolen art and relics from the Nazis and return them to their rightful owners. However, as World War Two is coming to a close, Hitler issues an order to destroy all the art, making it a race against the clock. Now, an intriguing premise that suggested a treasure hunt with a dash of Indiana Jones and a hint of Dad’s Army for good measure. Not at all, old sport. What came was a well acted, if meandering drawn out crusade that if not for a couple of twists, would have been dead in the water. It is difficult to criticize when this is based on a true story, but it still can’t be excused as it raised too many questions.

It reeked of the war movies of old. The sort of maritime viewing you get on a Sunday afternoon. A nice melancholic feel but the problem was that it felt dated before it had even begun. It does start off quite easy going and watchable. The cheeky winking and lighthearted pace as Clooney assembles a talented ensemble of retired veterans and soldiers consisting of Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and the underrated Bob Balaban (who has always stood out for me after his turn in The Lady in the Lake with his speech on characters. One for the writers, that). And of course, not forgetting the regular Clooney collaborators, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett.

It’s always going to be hard to make a war film after so many classics but looking at this as a sole text, the tone is all over the place. It has the cheeky twinkle that suggests a Dad’s Army and Allo Allo vibe, especially with Damon’s badly spoken French. A reverse twist that had the odd chuckle, with the French begging him to speak English. There is the occasional titter but the material fails to bring a lot of humour and the partnership between Balaban and Murray could have been so much more. We know Murray is funny, so why not let him apply a little bit of his spiel? He seemed restricted. Well, if we’re honest, they all seem restricted. There was potential with Dujardin and Bonneville, especially in an exchange as to why Hitler only bombs places with no art or culture. Bonneville retorts, “Well they bombed London”. Dujardin smiles, “Yes, I know”. A little bit harsh but there could have been a little rivalry or banter exchange between them, but the two get paired up with the wrong actors, to be honest.

That is also the main problem, the gang inevitably have to split up to cover more ground, which is more miss than hit. Damon aimlessly wonders around the beautiful French countryside before he finally meets his contact, Cate Blanchett. Clooney just drives around, barking orders and taking inventory with young recruit Dmitri Leonidas (you may remember him from the fantasy dud of a TV reboot, Sinbad).  Goodman and Dujardin do have the more interesting adventures with snipers and concluding battle scenes as the Germans were being pushed out. Murray and Balaban bring the odd chuckle and are a good pairing but their adventures are a little nothingy. When Damon meets Blanchett, it does pick up and there is some great chemistry between them but it all gets quite corny and hints at a needless and unnecessary romance. 

There are sobering moments that do bring it back home with some unexpected twists that did surprise, without spoiling, and once the group reunite, the film picks up after a drawn out hour. The land mine scene may have been corny, but was funny and suspenseful. There is a harrowing little touch when the group come across more than they bargained for, when they discover barrels of gold wedding rings and teeth. Clooney’s cigarette speech with the head German officer in charge of disposing the art was brilliant. We finally got to see Clooney come back to the fore and act well, after being quite absent. The pace quickens as the gang have to race against the clock to retrieve all the art before the Russians arrive. There is also a nice aside at the end with a fitting tribute. 

However, The Monuments Men felt more like an extension of the Points episode in Band of Brothers and unfortunately that got the point across a lot better and a lot more riveting in a condensed hour. I couldn’t help feel that in a time of death, loss and destruction, who would care about some pieces of art? Understandably, it is true that by removing the history and culture, you are truly removing the people but it seems less important to the lives that were already lost. A watchable, if drawn out, corny and predictable affair that may get lost like the art in the plethora of war classics before it. 2.5/5

Currently ranks #86 out of 142!