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The star of this film: the once famous Paris Velodrome d'Hiver
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.