by M. Faust
For awhile, Sarah’s Key looks like it’s going to be another film like Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn, a fictional film designed to bring to life a little-known horror story of World War II that doesn’t fit into the traditional template. In this case, it’s the roundup of 28,000 Jews by the French police in Paris under the orders of the occupying Nazis. Prior to being shipped out to camps, 13,000 people were held at the Velodrome d’Hiver, an enclosed racetrack with no sanitary facilities and no food other than donations from charitable organizations.
The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, as it came to be known, is the subject of an article being written by Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas), an American journalist living in Paris with her French husband and daughter. She becomes obsessed with tracking down Sarah, a girl who was 10 when she and her family were taken from their apartment, one month before her husband’s grandparents moved into it.
Intercutting between Sarah’s story and Julia’s, Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s film (adapted from a novel by Tatiana De Rosnay) only lingers at the Velodrome long enough to persuade us that it was, as Julia notes, “a million times worse than the New Orleans Superdome.” (It’s rated PG-13.) It’s a fast-paced story that holds your attention and pulls at your tear ducts well enough that you don’t notice what it’s missing until later, when you realize that the time spent with these fictional characters has only skimmed the surface of an incident that deserves deeper inquiry. It also gives short shrift to the psychology of survivor guilt, used for melodramatic effect only (though that appears to have been lessened from the novel). You won’t be able to take your eyes of the screen, and you’ll probably want to being Kleenex if you’re the weepy sort, but in the end there’s less here than meets the eye.
Watch the trailer for Sarah's Key
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