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Set in Marseilles and its environs, SUZANNE is a family saga taking place over a quarter of a century involving the eponymous central character (Sara Forestier), her sister Maria (Adèle Haenel), and single parent father (François Damiens). We first encounter Suzanne as a little girl preparing for a dance display; she thoroughly enjoys the experience of performing in front of an audience, but the smile on her face freezes as the jamboree comes to an end. There is something not entirely happy about her existence.
This is a telling moment, as it foreshadows the turbulent progress of Suzanne's development from childhood into womanhood. Her father is a truck-driver, which necessitates his being away from home for lengthy periods at a time. The two sisters do their best to look after themselves, but it seems unsurprising that the adolescent Suzanne should end up pregnant. She subsequently falls deeply in love with petty criminal Julien (Paul Hamy), an affair that puts her family loyalty to the test. Torn between love and duty, Suzanne eventually absconds and ends up in jail.
SUZANNE might be described as the antithesis of the growing-up movies of the mid-Sixties, which celebrated the new-found freedoms of the teenage generation. GEORGY GIRL (1966) might be considered an example. Katell Quillévéré's film includes at least one sequence where Suzanne and Julien display that freedom; but it is set within a framework that is decidedly prison-like. Even before Suzanne serves her sentence, she has to cope with life in a series of poky apartments and/or hotel rooms, all of them dingily furnished. Hence it's hardly surprising that she should desire some form of escape through love.
As the narrative unfolds, so Suzanne's plight becomes more and more desperate. Yet nonetheless we have to admire her for the way she resists all that life has to throw at her. In the end she achieves some kind of emotional fulfillment, even if her immediate surroundings seem less than prepossessing.
SUZANNE is very much a character-focused piece of work, with the camera being particularly adept at portraying the depth of Suzanne's relationship with Julien and her son Charlie (Timothé Vom Dorp) through tight close-ups and two-shots. The action ends with Suzanne's father driving away with the adolescent Charlie (Jaime Da Cunha) across a bare landscape at sunset to the strains of Nina Simone's "Suzanne" (1969). This is an apt choice of song, drawing attention to the character's virtues and her stoicism, despite everything that happens to her.
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