on 6 January 2012
SARAH'S KEY~~~~~~ novel: Tatiana de Rosnay~~~~~~~ film: Gilles Paquel-Brenner
The best plot summary of this film are words taken from a starred review by Publishers Weekly of the novel appearing on the Metacritic internet site: "Julia Jarmond, an American journalist married to a Frenchman, is commissioned to write an article about the notorious Vel d'Hiv round up, which took place in Paris in 1942. She stumbles upon a family secret which will link her forever to the destiny of a young Jewish girl, Sarah. Julia learns that the apartment she and her husband Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand's family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported... She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers - especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive - the more she uncovers about Bertrand's family, about France and, finally, herself."
This is a French film that stars the acclaimed actress Kristin Scott Thomas as the journalist, a wonderful and versatile Mélusine Mayance as the young Sarah, Niels Arestrup as the farmer who hides Sarah from the Germans, Frédéric Pierrot as Jarmond's husband, and American actor Aiden Quinn in a small but stellar role in the last third of the film. Although it is a Holocaust movie, there are very few graphic scenes and several glimpses of happier days: young Sarah playing on the bed with her brother in the Marais apartment; Sarah and another girl ripping the Star of David from their clothing, frolicking in a field of wheat, and bathing in a muddy river after their escape from a detainee camp; the two young girls sleeping in a farmer's barn with his guard dog.
The true star (or villain) of the film is the Velodrome d'Hiver, an indoor bicyle track and sports stadium which was located in Paris near the Eiffel Tower. Built for the World's Fair in 1900, the small track was enlarged and moved several blocks farther away from the Tower to house events for the 1924 Summer Olympics. Damaged by fire in 1959 and demolished, the glass-topped structure was reconstructed for the movie by its crew. A bonus feature of the DVD shows the amazing reconstruction.
Of the 28,000 Jews deported from Paris and Northern France by French police at the request of German occupiers, 13,152 men, women and children were placed in the Vel d'Hiv in July of 1942 for eight days. No toilet access and little food or water was available...and the comparison to the New Orleans Superdome catastrophe is drawn early in the film. (The film's modern-day action is updated to 2009 to allow this comparison.)
This DVD is the film with English subtitles that had a limited USA release in July of 2011 to be touted as an Oscar 2012 contender. I had hesistated to rent a DVD with subtitles...but about a third of the film (the modern-day events) is in English...and the transition is smooth and not disruptive. From other Amazon reviews, it appears that the film closely follows the novel. Tatiana de Rosnay collaborated with Director Paquel-Brenner who wrote the screenplay.
I haven't read the book from which this film was adapted, so am purely assessing my reaction to the movie itself. Based around a 'hidden' piece of French history - the infamous events of July 1942 in Paris, the Vel d'Hiv round-up and processing of Jews to the camps, carried out not by the Germans, but the French themselves, the film is interesting in that it abjures easy black and white conclusions. The central character, an American journalist in the present day, married to a Frenchman, and resident in Paris, replies to a young American colleague's condemnation of those war-time Parisians 'And what would you have done at that time?' - recognising that the real horror is how the possibility for evil acts belongs not 'out there' but is latent in each of us. The star of this film,the bank-roller, is Kristin Scott-Thomas, and she is magnificent - but each of the actors, whether English or French speaking, delivers truthful, intense and interesting performances.
Part of the challenge and fascination of the movie lies in the constant shifting time-scale, from 1940's Paris to 60 years later, where Scott-Thomas's character, with moral decisions of her own to face, gets drawn into an investigation from the past, the events of which impinge directly on her life in present day, as her husband's family flat was 'acquired' after the expulsion of the Jews. The sense of rugs being pulled from under feet, the insecurity of the present, and how the past and the present are tied to each other - and yet strange to each other, is intensified by the two-languages of the movie - partly in English, partly in French, so there is always the sense of Scott-Thomas trying to straddle the divides of language and culture, to communicate across time and space.
The DVD extras, in the form of a 'making of the film' documentary was, for the most part, equally interesting. Several of the actors and extras had histories of their own - either personal, or family survivors of the Shoah - including the director. One particularly chilling moment was with a conversation with a group of extras, most young, but with one elderly woman. The young women are laughing, as the old woman says IF she had ever married she would have had a grand-daughter like one of the young girls. They laugh,saying were you never married, never? And the woman says 'no - who could I marry, I couldn't marry a Christian, and there were no Jews left' The actors playing the parents of the central young girl (Melusine Mayance, an extraordinary performance) also brought their own personal sensibilities into their perfcrmances, as people who had been affected by later European 'ethnic cleansings' and the extreme effects of divisive nationalism.
The level of performances, whether from established actors, unknowns or extras, is high. There is a sense that most people involved felt they were doing something more important than just making another film. Though 'Sarah's story' is a fiction, it is representative of many real, horrific stories, belonging to people whose own stories died with them, or with those who survived, and whose descendants may still carry deep scars
on 29 April 2015
The opening and concluding voiceover of ‘Sarah’s Key’ articulates that, “if a story is never told, it becomes something else: forgotten”, but “when a story is told, it is not forgotten; it becomes something else: the memory of who we were and the hope of who we can become”. That statement eloquently sums up the premise of this harrowing, but unforgettable film. With engrossing, documentary style cinematography, captivating performances, seamless editing and a heartrending score, it is a perfectly crafted movie, but that is not necessarily the point: it is a tale that needs to be told, if we are to evolve beyond the bloodthirsty warmongers whom we have been throughout our shameful history and continue to be, despite all that we can and should learn from our past failures.
I find it increasingly harder to take films like ‘Sarah’s Key’, simply because they ultimately serve as a depressing reflection of equally appalling atrocities that are currently perpetrated right across the globe. As I write this sobering passage, whole communities of innocent people are massacred and bulldozed over for their faith or the lack of it, exactly the same way the Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jews. Toady, boatloads of migrants perish in the sea in their desperate quest to escape prosecution and poverty, just the same way countless victims were dislodged from their lands during the two world wars. When it is becoming impossible to hope for a greener, fairer and just society in the future, despair leads to frustration and even anger or a lack of compassion for humanity as a whole. More worryingly, we are becoming progressively impervious to the violence that surrounds us.
‘Sarah’s Key’ is a commendable and potent attempt to make us learn from the past, but I would be surprised if the simians who continue to denigrate our species have the time to take any notice, for they are too busy killing one another!
Sarah's key is a powerfull film a story that must be told and remembered when I did history in school I learned about the horrors of world war 2 but to my surprise I learned nothing about the dark history of the French police under control of the nazi who collected all Jewish people in Paris in 1942
They rounded up in total 13,000 Parisian Jews, including more than 4,000 children, and took them to the now notorious Velodrome d Hiver stadium.
Where they were separated into groups healthy men for labour women and children separated and taken to the gas chambers at this point it was upsetting but it got worse as the film went on. Sarah escaped and was found and looked after by a farmer and his wife but she was always seeking something you then find out when she returns to Paris and goes back to her house very exited she opens a secret cupboard to the horror of her little brother being in there dead we then find out that she promised to keep her brother safe. This haunted her until she took her own life when she was an adult and had her own son Kristin Scott Thomas plays a american journalist investigating the horror of these crimes whilst she struggles with her own life and revealing the truth from a stranger in a french cafe who in the last sceen reveals himself to us as sarah's son a terrific film if you want something more in depth around this subject the film starring Jean reno the round up is just as good but that is in french with English subtitles.
on 3 July 2014
I first viewed this movie over a year ago. My first reaction was to reject the whole concept as a cynical exploitation of holocaust stories along with "The Boy in Striped Pyjamas". Afterall why not just tell the facts of the Vel d'Hiv, it's sensational enough to sell books? After all Schindler sold as did The Pianist. however, this movie works on many levels. It lays out very simply, the round up of the Parisian jews, their being held in the appalling conditions of the Vel d'Hiv, how the 72 thousand odd jews were eventually processed through various holding camps and ultimately shipped to concentration camps. It shows without blame matter of factly how all this was carried out by ordinary French gendarmes, not a Nazi in sight. It deals with how different French people dealt with events in different ways. Some were in denial and some just embraced events and found it impossible not to meet the needs of those victims as they presented. The story fictionalises how the young heroine tried to deal with the trauma of her experience ultimately committing suicide after many years of trying to find her place in the world. Interestingly, she didn't feel that her place lay in Palestine. Then, because it jumps up to the present day, it tries to show how these events are viewed by modern youth. The only thing that spoils it for me is the relationship between K S-T and her unsympathetic husband.
Yes, it's fiction but to me it works. Watch it.
I found this to be a very moving and memorable little film.
Although it shines a light on an important - one might even say conveniently forgotten - atrocious episode in the history of France under the collaborationist Vichy government, it is not strictly a history film. The plot is of a present-day journalist researching these events, who finds her husband's family were inadvertently caught up in the aftermath - subsequently her life and work begins to intertwine with the past as she searches for Sarah and what became of her.
There are some good performances here from a wonderful cast, including Scott Thomas - but the stand-out is clearly that of Mélusine Mayance as Sarah, an extraordinarily believable young actress.
The wartime episodes have clearly been well researched and re-created; others have mentioned another film "The Round-Up" which I haven`t seen - but I will, on the strength of this.
As it is, this is a work of fiction set within real events - naturally the modern parts of the plot seem trivial compared to those in the past, how could they not - but there is - I think, anyway - a fine balance achieved in the unfolding dual narrative that leaves a bittersweet, lasting impression.
Don`t judge it too harshly; this is a fine, heartfelt film most people will shed a tear over - certainly worth watching and with a good illuminating "making of" documentary as a DVD extra.
Its 1942 and France is under the Nazi jack boot, yet thanks to the plucky resistance the fascists are being thwarted at every turn - or not as it turned out. This is a tale that has its roots in the now infamous round up of the Jews of Paris in the summer of 1942. They were mostly women and children and were herded into the city's velodrome, where they were kept in stifling temperatures with no amenities, including lavatories, food and water.
Sarah is living in a building in the Jewish quarter with her parents and younger brother. When the gendarmes came calling, she hid him in a wardrobe, locking him in and taking the key. Once they reached the velodrome they realised their mistake in having left little Michelle behind. The Jews were then taken to transit camps before finally going to the death camps including Auschwitz. This was all done by the French authorities, albeit at the behest of their Uber Lords.
Meanwhile in the modern day, Julia Jarmond's (Kristen Scott-Thomas) husband has inherited that self same apartment from his ailing mum. Julia is working for a new French magazine and is doing a piece on the `round up' and has done some digging as to who these people were who had been in her new home.
The story flits back and forward telling the ordeals of Sarah and her fellow captives, in line with the unfolding truths that Julia finds increasingly difficult to accept. This is an extremely well acted and crafted film that deals with an emotional scar on the French psyche in an open and honest way. President Mitterrand actually apologised for French complicity in these deportations of 76,000 Jews. It took that long for France to face up to that part of her past, but at least she did it. This whole episode was told in a much more acute way in the film `The Round Up', this film has some resonance with that but also `Sophie's Choice'. There are fine performances all round and an excellent musical score, the whole thing exudes quality.
This is not an action flick and not straightforward good versus evil, as some of the Gendarmes are portrayed as good guys in the wrong place etc. Whilst it does not show some of the grittier sides to the subject in hand, it still faces up to them. It is in French, some English and a smattering of German, that is not always translated. Fans of war history films and Kristen Scott-Thomas will want to see this. A special word has to be said about the performance by Melusine Mayance who plays Sarah, she is utterly convincing, a brilliant performance. Write and director Gilles Paquet-Brennan has made an interesting and thoughtful film, that does him credit.
I should say I haven't read the book this film is based on - though I will look for it now. It's not an easy film to watch, and nor should it be, the story of Sarah being about the rounding up of Jews in Paris during the Second World War. But I thought it was really good, and well worth watching; just not on an evening when you're looking for light- hearted entertainment.
The reason the film is so good is Kristen Scott Thomas, who is wonderful. Personally I found she made me feel for her in her present-day situation, and see the (much more dramatic historical) story, which she was uncovering through her eyes. She plays an American journalist in Paris, married to a Frenchman, and the dialogue moves between French and English - so she is perfect for this part (and as beautiful as ever). I really liked the way past intersected with the present - but then I generally like books and films where the that happens. And I was pleased with the way it ended.
It reminded me a little bit of Charlotte Gray, if only because both had me bawling my eyes out, and both times at truly tragic stories of children in WWII.
on 25 August 2015
This part of history was new to me. I's easy to blame the Nazis for all the atrocities, but one forgets that very little would have been possible without the cooperation of the ordinary people that were subjugated in the 2nd World War and who were, to various degrees, forced to do unspeakable things. This film provides a platform for telling a heartbreaking story that deserves to be told. With regards to the comments that "it's not as good as the book" or the "DVD quality is rubbish" or it was "boring" or "too Hollywood"; are we not missing the point here? We should be paying our respects to the memory of Sarah and her family and all the families referred to in the film and in the book. Don't these negative comments just seem a little shallow and thoughtless?
on 14 September 2011
I lived through the times in this movie, and would have been about the same age as Sarah, but we were unaware of what was happening in France, and even after the war I never knew how much the french police cooperated with their conquerers. I saw this movie because I feel i can rely on the choices of Kristin Scott Thomas. She very rarely disapoints. I found the movie very harrowing, but also imformative. Normally I dislike the going back and forwards in time in movies, but here I welcomed the relief. It held my interest right through, and was so pleased for the happy ending. I got so interested in the subject I purchased the DVD of THE ROUND UP, which is very good, although SARAH'S KEY is more personal, you reaaly get to care for little Sarah, and you also admire her determination to save her even smaller brother. The movie lived with me for days after seeing it. I know how people say " It's not as good as the book!" But reading a book you imagine how the charcters will look, also a book can go into more detail, so readers are going to be disapointed in any movie. I did not read the book and found the movie to be an experience! And isn't that what the author intended? I have already pre ordered the DVD on Amazon