DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
SARAH'S KEY (director/writer: Gilles Paquet-Brenner; screenwriters: Serge Joncour/based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay; cinematographer: Pascal Ridao; editor: Hervé Schneid; music: Max Richter; cast: Kristin Scott Thomas (Julia Jarmond), Mélusine Mayance (Sarah), Niels Arestrup (Jules Dufaure), Frédéric Pierrot (Bertrand Tezac), Michel Duchaussoy (Édouard Tezac), Dominique Frot (Geneviève Dufaure), Gisèle Casadesus (Mamé), Aidan Quinn (William Rainsferd), Natasha Mashkevich (Mme Starzynski), Arben Bajraktaraj (M. Starzynski), Karina Hin (Zoe), James Gerard (Mike Bambers); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Stéphane Marsil; the Weinstein Company; 2010-France-in French and English, with English subtitles)

"Teary-eyed absorbing Holocaust story."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Teary-eyed absorbing Holocaust story, that's framed as a detective story. It's directed with great sensitivity by Gilles Paquet-Brenner ("Walled In"/"Payoff"/"UV"), and intelligently co-written by Serge Joncour and the director. It's based on Tatiana de Rosnay's 2007 best-selling novel. It's an important film because it provides a controversial history lesson, as it paints the French in a poor light for their resistance efforts during the war, by calling out the French government as collaborators with the Nazis. Like all Holocaust films it drudges up realistic nightmarish stories that are not entertaining in the usual way a viewer is entertained by a horror story.

The middle-aged American journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) is living in Paris with her workaholic architect French husband Bertrand Tezac (Frédéric Pierrot) and teenage daughter Zoe. Julia is engaged on a magazine research project about the 60th anniversary of the Vel'd'Hiv Roundup in 1942 in France, where some 13,000 Jews were sent to death camps in Germany and Poland. While on the story, Julia discovers the apartment hubby inherited from his father, that he wants to fix up to live in, is in the old Jewish quarters of Marais and is where in 1942 it was occupied by a Jewish family deported to the camps during the round-up. The journalist learns that a 10-year-old girl named Sarah (Mélusine Mayance) was rounded-up with her father and mother and brought to an athletic stadium and then to a holding area called Beaune-la-Rolande to wait there in horrible conditions before her parents were sent to Auschwitz. The girl was obsessed with escaping because she locked her little brother Michael in the bedroom closet so he wouldn't be arrested and told him she would soon return to free him--not realizing the gravity of the arrest.

The film veers between the past and present: it follows the harrowing round-up scenes in 1942, Sarah's daring escape and how she was raised by a poor farm couple in the country who gave her protection and shelter; while in the present Julia's less than tragic story, seemingly minor when compared with Sarah's ordeal, tells how her marriage comes apart, as hubby is disappointed she's pregnant and can't bear to hear the raw truth of the shameful past revealed by his determined journalist wife. Julia becomes obsessed with trying to trace what happened to Sarah during and after the war, and through her doggedness and journalist research skills we learn more about Sarah's ordeal.

The journalist can't get the haunting story out of her head even when the assignment is long over and she has run into a seemingly dead-end, but continues to investigate and at last learns what ultimately became of Sarah and her brother. In the process of following this heartbreaking tragedy until its bittersweet conclusion Julia meets Sarah's bewildered 40-year-old writer son (Aidan Quinn), who is unaware of his Jewish roots and at first is unable to accept the new truth. In this search for truth, Julia undergoes her own cathartic self-discovery and pays a hefty price to find out about herself.

Kristin Scott Thomas gives a fascinatingly complex performance, as the outsider who feels so much the pain of the Holocaust that she rails against all those that cannot go to the same lengths she does in trying to come to grips with such inhumanity and as a result her life becomes shattered after her break-up with her non-supportive husband. The Thomas character becomes alienated from the world, so much so that she doesn't even feel at home when she returns to live in her NYC birthplace--it's as if she's also returning from the camps.

REVIEWED ON 9/23/2011       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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