This is a film that will inevitably draw comparisons to `Schindlers List', this though has a less than happy outcome. It tells of the true events that took place in France during July 1942. The gas chambers of the death camps were becoming fully operational and Hitler was keen to ensure they were put to maximum use. Quotas were issued to all of the occupied areas for minimum numbers of Jews to be transported. The anti-Semitic propaganda was in full swing in France and very little sympathy was around for their plight. The yellow star being seen as shameful, and their basic rights are slowly eroded, in an attempt to vilify them further. After being asked for 100,000 Jews, they offered 20, but in the end could only realise 13,000 -nearly a third of that number being children.
This tells the story of the events leading up to the `round up', and the subsequent crimes perpetrated against the Jews by the Vichy French Government. It was with the full co-operation of Petain that these `deportations' were able to take place as the French police and secret service carried it out, with the understanding of increased autonomy from the Nazi'z as recompense.
They were first taken to the Winter Velodrome, where conditions were far from sanitary and even water was not supplied. All couples without children and single males were sent to the concentration camp at Drancy, so everyone here had children - over 4,000 of them.
They are then sent in cattle trucks to their transit camps. At the Velodrome a Jewish doctor (David Scheinbaum) played by Jean Reno works single handedly to try to help, he has only eight nurses including Nurse Annette (Melanie Laurent). She is so taken with the plight of these unfortunate children that she volunteers to travel on with them. We have the stories of a number of families and how they help each other, try to maintain both spirit and dignity; all not knowing what true fate awaited them and still of the mindset that to co-operate might get them through. Realisation is a slow emotion and for most it came too late. The characters are all well developed, some of the French police are not all bad, but being complicit and following orders, much like some of their German compatriots.
I found this to be an excellently acted, directed and shot film. It is unashamedly emotional and I found myself moved, on more than one occasion. Everything is done with great detail including Hitler's `Wolfs Lair'. All of the actors were good, but the children were exceptional, all of it came across as being very real, very painful and very moving. If you would like to know more about Vichy France and what went on behind the scenes, there is an excellent book called `Bad Faith'Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family and Fatherland
. I thoroughly loved this film, though it is far from enjoyable due to the subject matter, but just as the afore mentioned Schindlers List was excellent, so is this. In French and German with good subtitles and a run time of 113 minutes, it most certainly does not outstay its' welcome - unlike the Vichy Government.