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.