Sarah’s Key (review)

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Sarah's Key

In July 1942, French police, at the bidding of the occupying Nazis, rounded up thousands of French Jews, warehousing them for days in horrific conditions — no toilets, no food — at a Parisian velodrome before shipping them off to Auschwitz. This really happened, and has mostly been forgotten. The fictional aspect of Sarah’s Key, a tale of this terrible event based on the novel by Tatiana De Rosnay [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], asks the tough question: Should we remember every horrid detail of the past, or is it better to sometimes let the past go? To its credit, this tough, starkly unsentimental film does not offer a definitive answer, except to suggest that there may be no good one. Modern-day journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas: Nowhere Boy), an American living in Paris, discovers an unexpected connection between her happy life with her French husband and preteen daughter and the long-ago roundup, and it has to do with young Sarah Starzynski (a heartbreaking Mélusine Mayance), a remarkably self-possessed little girl who protects her even younger brother from the roundup in a way that has startling consequences. As Julia unravels Sarah’s story — the past and present threads unfold side by side for us — the journalist’s obsession becomes ours: director Gilles Paquet-Brenner mines suspense not just out of the mysteries of the plot but also our own anticipation of how we will react to what we suspect may be coming. The connection between history and now — a connection that we see stretching into the future — is so deeply personal here that we’re left with the possibility that perhaps the very bad things that happened long ago should demand that a price continues to be paid for them. At the very least, we are reminded that we live with the past all around us all the time, whether we realize it or not.

Watch Sarah’s Key online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

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Tue, Aug 05, 2014 10:13pm

The review above is far from excellent. First things first: I have not read the book, so I’m purely talking about the movie. By mentioning the author/writer I’m referring to the person(s) responsible for the story of the movie.
The movie has too many themes. Side notes such as miracle middle age pregnancy, the sentimental bit of the American son, marriage troubles in a rather forced way, the overwrought role of the impartial foreigner as a researcher etc. etc.
Also, this desperate need to connect past and present (which could have worked) without being offensive is grating but will not alienate its intended public: no non-German was ‘wrong’ after 1942.
The French family is in crisis when the daughter-in-law (soon to be foreigner) even mentions the drama that took place in the appartment, so the carrott dangling in front of us – a proper discussion of one’s own family possibly having benefitted from the war – is nothing more than a farce. The saintly new occupant of the appartment even spends his own money as some sort of penitence.
The girl going into a voluntary exile – as does the contemporary journalist – is non-offensive and easy. Although relocating after the war was as normal as staying, I find it disturbing that both protagonists remove themselves from France. Can they not live in France as it is or can France not live with them? That would be an interesting discussion. What it isn’t, is a solution.
The loving adoptive family: convenient. I’d love for life to work out that way, but it often does not.
I applaud the author for bringing the Velodrome drama to the world’s attention, but her courage is limited to events before 1943. And even those collaborating or wilfully ignorant characters are periferal and disappear from view quickly.
Perhaps she correctly surmises Sarah’s home country (or all of us?) are not ready to discuss the less savoury parts of allied involvement in WWII. As this is still an actual theme for many of us, we all ought to take our responsibility, good, bad or grey. Sometimes I fear that for the coming generations WWII will be nothing more than a convenient heartbreaking literary tool without any depth or growth. We are to admire, pity or be repulsed, but nothing more. If the people around the Velodrome ought to have done something other than close their windows, then shouldn’t we also keep them open as well, if only to force ourselves not to look away?

Or I ought to applaud the writer for taking a first step, however misguided, and hope that this in some way will help and not hinder more honesty in the future?