We are trying to make the most of “The Little Theatre” cinema which I think that I have mentioned in an earlier post. I recently saw “Suite Française” which is based on the Irène Némirovsky novel of the same name. I read this about a year ago while still in Sydney and found it quite engrossing. The story is all the more poignant for having been “lost” in a trunk somewhere since the war and because Némirovsky herself died in Auschwitz during the war.
The pain of occupation suffered by the French should be something of a lesson to us in the West as we casually occupy countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. There is the humiliation and the privation mixed with the need to try to continue some form of normal life while treading a fine line between surviving and not being seen to be collaborating. This tension is then heightened here by the strength of human emotions and entanglements further complicating lives and the demands of morality and social hierarchies leading to tragic unintended consequences.
Just yesterday we saw “A Touch of Chaos” directed by and starring Alan Rickman and Kate Winslett. Also, coincidentally, Matthias Schoenaerts who played the civilised German officer struggling to maintain his sense of morality in Suite Française, appears here as “the Master” in charge of the creation of the gardens at Louis XIV’s Versaille. I have no notion of the historical accuracy of the story which purports to tell how a certain Sabine de Barra is hired by André le Nôtre to introduce some left of park ideas into the gardens. I have to agree with the Guardian that the film is “is a limp, aimless film without any feel for 17th-century speech or manners”.
Although the film attempts to pit “order” against “chaos” in the philosophy of garden designs the end result of all of Madam de Barra’s “chaos” is actually a highly ordered amphitheatre of cascading water and grass terraces encircling a formal tiled area upon which the court eventually performs one of those stylised “dances” so beloved of the period.
The two leads are bound to hit the sack together before the end of the story and the villainess, whose motives are completely opaque, tries but is easily thwarted in an attempt to ruin Sabine’s gardening efforts. All so very formulaic even though beautifully shot and costumed.
The one moment of genuine poignancy is the scene in which Sabine is brought to court to be presented to the king but briefly hijacked by the ladies of the court and whisked away to their secret chambers where they can at last be themselves and speak freely without having to adopt the highly formal and restricted gender roles of court behaviour.
The music was quite gorgeous though.