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This film was watched online, via LoveFilm, and therefore is a review of the film only. I plan on both the DVD and the book that this film is based on and so will add to this review later.
Having not much to do over the past few months, I've watched quite a few documentaries about behaviour towards the Jewish people during World War Two. Yesterday i watched a film that showed another side, that of the willing participation of the French bureaucracy, including the Paris police and French army, in handing over Jewish people to the Germans. Like The Boy in th Striped Pyjamas, this is one of those films where you won't quite be the same after watching it, a combination of both dread and hope in the face of humanity.
It's 1942. Sarah, a ten year old Jewish girl living in Paris, is playing with her little brother it their apartment when police officers bang on the door. Sarah, scared of the commotion, lies to the French police, stating that her brother is not in the flat. She quickly summons him into a secret closet and locks him in, taking the key with her. Unknown to her, she and her family are being arrested in what has become known as Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, leaving her little brother behind. The story then jumps to the present, 2009, Julia Jarmond an American journalist living in Paris,goes to look at an apartment inherited by her French husband, the same apartment that Sarah and her family lived in before being arrested. Julia, who is already writing a story about the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, begins to unravel the history of the apartment and through alternating between the past and the present we begin to learn what happened to its inhabitants. As the two stories intertwine, we learn about the evil that one group of people can inflict on each other but also of bravery in the face of adversity and the kindness of strangers. The film is mostly in French but does have subtitles. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Tatiana de Rosnay, presenting two fictional families against a very real backdrop of historic events.
The majority of the cast are French and it's a bit harder to judge acting ability whilst also reading subtitles, however the actors in this film make the material dealt with seem truthful and honest. The performances were captivating, especially Mélusine Mayance as the young Sarah who is heart breaking and believable. Kristin Scott Thomas is a bit annoying as Julia but the character is supposed to be slightly obsessed and irritating which does come across, she holds the film together, it's easy to see why she was nominated for an Oscar in a previous role (For The English Patient, which I still haven't seen).
Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral, The English Patient) - Julia Jarmond
Natasha Mashkevich - Mrs Starzynski
Arben Bajraktaraj - Mr Starzynski
Mélusine Mayance - young Sarah Starzynski
Niels Arestrup - Jules Dufaure
Dominique Frot - Geneviève Dufaure
Frédéric Pierrot - Bertrand Tezac
Michel Duchaussoy - Édouard Tezac
Gisèle Casadesus - the grandmother
Aidan Quinn (Desperately Seeking Susan, Legends of the Fall) - William Rainsferd
I'm not the type of person who can just watch a film and that's that, I always have to find out how much of what I'm being told is real (That's why I love google). On 16 and 17 July 1942 code name Operation Spring Breeze, was placed into effect. 13,152 foreign Jewish people were arrested, 5,802 (44%) were women and 4,051 (31%) were children. They were first taken to the Vélodrome d'Hiver, and enclosed cycle track (It partly burnt down and was destroyed in 1959) where they were kept for five days with no toilets and one water tap. From the velodrome the victims were temporarily held at a internment camp at Drancy and then those who surived the crammed wagons without food or water ended up in Auschwitz. The roundup accounted for more than 25% of the 42,000 Jews sent from France to Auschwitz in 1942, what is most significant is the role that the French Republic played.
On 16 July 1995, the President, Jacques Chirac, issued the following statement:
"These black hours will stain our history for ever and are an injury to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupant was assisted('secondée') by the French, by the French state. Fifty-three years ago, on 16 July 1942, 450 policemen and gendarmes, French, under the authority of their leaders, obeyed the demands of the Nazis. That day, in the capital and the Paris region, nearly 10,000 Jewish men, women and children were arrested at home, in the early hours of the morning, and assembled at police stations... France, home of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, land of welcome and asylum, France committed that day the irreparable. Breaking its word, it delivered those it protected to their executioners."
This review is published under my user name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.
For Christmas my best friend gave me a 6 month subscription to LoveFilm, allowing me two discs at a time. "Sarah's Key" was my 9th DVD (I've watched a further 5 films online) - I certainly intend to make the most of this subscription, although probably won't be continuing when the time is up (by then I should have seen pretty much everything I want to see!)
I'm only reviewing films which don't already have a review written on Ciao/dooyoo, so was pleasantly surprised to find that "Sarah's Key" hadn't (DVD released in November 2011). Having now seen the film I can perhaps understand why. I think I chose to add the film to my rental list as a result of a recommendation on Amazon based on my wishlist/order history.
With a friend coming over for the night I thought we'd start with "Sarah's Key" whilst in a state of relative sobriety, also a good idea since it turned out that most of the dialogue is French!
As the blurb on the disc case says - "Paris. July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard; their secret hiding place; and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released..."
Although it isn't a true story (it's based on a book written by Tatiana de Rosnay) it is based around true events - 10000 Jews rounded up in 1942 (the 'Vél d'Hiver Roundup') most of whom ended up in German concentration camps. I didn't know anything about this aspect of the war and the French involvement with the holocaust, so it was marginally interesting on this level. I thought it sounded quite promising from the blurb.
The main story is about Sarah's mission to get back to her apartment and let her 4 year old brother out of the cupboard - the key features frequently as she drops it and picks it up, and drops it and picks it up, quite repetitive really (but then the title should've prepared us for that). As one might imagine (and I don't think this is a spoiler since it's so obvious right from the start) it's not a happy ending for Sarah's brother.
Running parallel (the film flits between the two, with no real logical order) with Sarah's story is the story of Julia (played by Kristin Scott Thomas), an American journalist in the present day writing a story about the deportation of Jews in 1942. Julia stumbles across the Sarah's tale, and becomes quite obsessed with finding out what happened. It turns out that in some way Julia and Sarah are linked, but I won't give that away in case you do want to watch it.
The story did seem quite confusing at times, my friend and I weren't really sure who some of the characters were, or what their relevance was....and even which country we were in at the time (USA, France and Italy). Things did become clearer at the end, but by then we had lost interest in actually caring who they were or where they were.
---Other things about the film---
The film was directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner. The story about Sarah is predominantly in French (with English subtitles) and the story about Julia is predominantly in English. I found this slightly irritating (perhaps others might think it's clever) - I'd rather it was one way or another.
In my opinion the acting is nothing to write home about, there are no performances which stand out, aside from Kristin Scott Thomas being quite good at being very irritating (the only other actor I'd heard of was Aidan Quinn). I didn't even feel much sympathy for the character of Sarah (played by Mélusine Mayance) which sounds terrible since it is such a tragic story.
There are a couple of quite shocking scenes (one in particular towards the start) although nothing too bad (bearing in mind the context of the holocaust) - the film has a 12 certificate.
"Sarah's Key" lasts 110 minutes. And quite frankly it was 110 minutes of disappointment - I absolutely LOVE such films as "Schindler's List" (my 2nd favourite film in the world EVER), "The Pianist", "Downfall" and "Sophie Scholl" (the latter two which are in German with subtitles, so I have no issue with subtitled films if they are good!) I have also enjoyed "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" and "The Reader" which are fictional stories based around true events occurring in WW2. I had hoped that "Sarah's Key" would be on a par with these - unfortunately it wasn't.
Extras on the DVD are a Trailer, and "The Making Of" - this documentary is split into 10 parts and lasts over an hour. I'm afraid I cannot bear to waste another hour of my life (especially not in French) - but to those who enjoy the film I imagine it might be interesting.
For some reason this film seems to have good reviews - 7.3 on IMDb and even higher on Amazon (so clearly the film must appeal to many - to members on Ciao/dooyoo, I'd be interested if you write a review and think differently, send me a message!) My friend and I discussed the rating, and decided that we'd give it 2 stars out of 5 - we felt this was more than generous.
Should you wish to go against my advice, the DVD can currently be purchased on Amazon new for £8.97 - I am SO glad I rented it!
I have a real talent for choosing crap films, and following a break to watch "Casualty" we watched "Never Let Me Go" which was equally bad. Thankfully the box of wine we consumed made the evening far more bearable, and the beef casserole we ate whilst watching was very nice!!! Next time she comes I'll try and do better on the films front...