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I must admit that I approached this movie and it's subject matter with a fair amount of trepidation given the holocaust theme once again having sat through other movies such as Sophie's Choice, The boy with the striped pajamas and The Pianist. However I must say that the story here was compelling and the performance of Kristin Scott Thomas was excellent as I have come to expect from her in other movies I have her seen her in. Perhaps as it was the French who were first and foremost the main villains in this piece the story of those black days being diluted to a degree by the switch from the past to the present was in some ways a relief from other holocaust movies. Searching for the truth concerning Sarah kept me interested until the final minutes of the film and I recommend it to those lovers of European cinema.
When the humble home of a poor Jewish family is raided by a vile strand
of the French authorities hoping to get in Hitler's good books, their
well-meaning daughter Sarah (a heartwrenching Mélusine Mayance)
instinctively hides and locks her little brother in the closet to keep
him safe from the unspeakable horrors of the Vel d'Hiv detention centre
for Jews. It is only after she and the rest of the family seems well
beyond escape that she realises the long-term consequences of her
decision and is determined to get back to free him, holding onto that
precious key relentlessly as she, like thousands of others, tries her
hardest to endure the atrocities of the Holocaust. We as the audience
follow this earlier part her captivating story another of those
outstanding tales that are of of a personal nature yet have a grand
historical context mostly on our own, with regular cuts to
American-born Parisian-resident journalist Julia Jarmond (the masterful
Kristin Scott Thomas) who is writing about the events concerned and
soon develops a keen interest in Sarah's life. Her segments are much
less harrowing, being set in the present day and involving much more
trivial complications than those relating to Sarah, and are actually a
welcome relief when they come.
Julia's irritating struggle to dissuade her husband (Frédéric Pierrot) from having her get an abortion after she has endured two miscarriages is as poignant a subplot as any in a drama, allowing us to become familiar with her character before we discover the final fate of the girl along with her. Her inquiries lead her to many different people who are linked to these affairs, from her own father-in-law (Michel Duchaussoy) to Sarah's only son (Aidan Quinn), a simple western entrepreneur clueless about his own mother's past. The fact that a handful of these scenes are in English brings another refreshing touch of variety to the film, helping to make it the must-see beautiful cinematic triumph that it is.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Recent films like The Reader and The Boy In The Striped Pajamas have attempted to put a human face on the vast tragedy of the Holocaust, and have reminded us of the legacy and the consequences of that awful period of 20th century history. Just when we thought that there were no more Holocaust stories left to tell, along comes this powerful and moving French drama. The film uses a little known event from French history as a starting point for a deeply affecting drama about guilt, redemption, family secrets, the comfort of strangers, and hope in a time of war and madness. In 1942, French authorities rounded up thousands of Jewish citizens and confined them inside the Paris Velodrome in appalling conditions for several days. They endured stifling heat, a lack of water and food, and basic sanitary conditions like toilets and showers. They were then shipped off to transit camps, where women and children were forcibly separated from their families. One such family was the Starzynskis. When the police burst into their small apartment, ten-year old Sarah (Melusine Mayance) hid her younger brother inside a wardrobe, locking the door behind her. She kept the key throughout her ordeal, hoping to return home to rescue him. The film alternates between these harrowing scenes and the present day, where Paris based American journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) is writing an article on this disturbing and shameful incident. But as she probes into the past, Julia discovers a personal connection between the fate of Sarah's family and her own family. She learns that her husband's family purchased the Starzynski's home soon after the family was removed. This makes her more determined to discover Sarah's fate, a decision that puts a strain on her marriage. Her quest takes her from present day Paris to Italy and the United States, and her journey has a big impact on her own personal life. Scott Thomas has previously delivered strong performances in other French dramas (Leaving, I've Loved You So Long, etc), but here she finds one of the more emotionally substantial roles of her career. Her intelligent presence, obsessive nature and air of sadness lift this solid and moving drama. Also impressive is Mayance, who brings a feisty quality, resilience and quiet determination to her role as Sarah as she moves through a variety of emotions - fear, doubt, terror with great conviction. Niels Arestrup, who was so effectively menacing in A Prophet, brings gruff but unexpectedly tender quality to his performance as a farmer who reluctantly shelters Sarah from the authorities. Sarah's Key is based on the best-selling novel written by Tatiana De Rosnay, in which the ghosts of the Holocaust continue to haunt the survivors, who are often wracked with guilt. Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner handles the material with great sensitivity, but avoids descending into cheap melodrama. The harrowing scenes set inside the Velodrome bristle with a palpable sense of outrage. Paquet-Brenner maintains a steady but assured pace as the film builds towards its final, emotionally devastating scene when Julia meets Sarah's son (played by Aidan Quinn), who discovers the truth of his own history. Technical contributions are all excellent, from Francoise Dupertuis' production design, to Eric Perron's costumes, Max Richter's poignant and unobtrusive score, Pascal Ridao's evocative cinematography, and Herve Schneid's editing which fluidly moves between the different time frames. Sarah's Key is a powerful, harrowing and moving tale that explores one of the darkest and most shameful periods of France's history, but it ultimately proves to be something of an uplifting tale of redemption and forgiveness.
An American journalist in Paris embarks on a story about the Holocaust and discovers connections between the past, her present marriage and her unborn child. Beginning as an article on the 1942 roundup of Jews in France as they were sent off to Auschwitz, it soon becomes a journey of self-discovery as the protagonist stumbles upon a terrible secret of a family forced out of their home and a young girl called Sarah who makes an impulsive decision to leave her younger brother locked in a cupboard. A film about the Holocaust is certain to be moving, but the circumstances in this one are harrowing, the truth astonishing, and the coincidences as unbelievable as the tragedy itself. It is a journalist's quest to dig up the lives of others and unleash the truth, but this film show the price of these actions. Sarah's Key takes us from Paris to Brooklyn to Florence and ultimately to the centre of the heart showing that even the truth has its cost. And the sadness, as much as we try to unlock it, can never be erased.
The movie deals with a harrowing episode in European history in a
convincing fashion. It cleverly shifts from the past to the present,
all the while building towards a tidy conclusion that ties up most of
the loose ends, but leaves the audience guessing about the possible
future of some of the main characters.
I was slightly disappointed that a few of the present day scenes were a little too frivolous for a movie that was built around such a tragic episode. However some good may come from this if it makes the movie more accessible to the younger audience, who might not be aware of all of the horrors of Jewish persecution during WW2.
When a Jewish family get arrested by Hitler siding French police, young
Sarah not understanding the magnitude of what is occurring locks her
younger brother in a closet, expecting to come back and recover him
shortly. Realizing quickly that the situation she is in is far more
terrible than expected she is desperate to escape and set him free.
Sick, her and her family are taken to a camp where parents are
separated from the children and are never seen again. Recovered Sarah
and another young girl find an escape and run through the countryside
to safety. The other girl becomes sick and they are both taken in by a
older French couple but as the girl worsens there is a risk of exposing
the girls as Jews. Although the young girl doesn't make it, Sarah is
hidden away till the Nazi's leave and Sarah pleads with them to take
her to Paris to find her brother. The journey is fraught with danger
and the end obvious to us.
In modern day Paris, Julia and her family inspect an apartment of her in laws that her architect French husband will redo. Julia, am American, works as a journalist and wants to cover a story about the use of a velodrome where Parisian Jews where herded to and discovers the story of Sarah. An obsession grows as Julia is determined to find out what happened to the young girl and to find out how her husbands family came to own the flat.
This is a very fine film that is equally a historical story as well as a mystery as Julia seeks out the truth with a fine performance by Kristen Scott Thomas as Julia. The film flit's between the too separate yet connected story lines. Scenes of confusion within the velodrome are horrid too watch as are the scenes of separation of parents and children in the camp. We as the audience can almost guess the outcome of Sarah's young brother left locked in a closet whose key Sarah clings to, yet the outcome is still gut wrenching and Sarah's scream is enough for us to understand what she finds without us having to have it confirmed visually.
The obsession of Julia is a fascinating one; trying to work out first how the flat became someone elses, to searching for some sign of what became of the young girl takes her her far and wide and she encounters an array of people including Sarah's son, who is clueless to his Mother's past.
Scott Thomas gives quite a wonderful yet almost subdued performance as she struggles with the horrors of the past and her families connection to events as well as dealing with her own personal torment. The film is extraordinarily moving in it's telling of Sarah with her experience resonating and shaping those that come after her. Yet because the film chooses to focus on two timelines, we are never entirely dragged into the horrors of the Holocaust and whilst we are never far from them, it never overbalances itself. It is a fine film that depicted another story of the many thousands that WWII has given us, one that for France is of shame and one that, as with so many others continues to be relevant and effect those generations after.
More of my reviews at iheartfilms.weebly.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw the movie, and I read a few of the reviews. Even though I know we
watched the same movie, I seem to have taken away a different message
than many others. To me, the movie I saw was not so much about France
in 1942, the "Vel' d'Hiv" Roundup, or how it affected the life of one
small girl. To me, the movie was about the nature of man - how little
it changes, how much it affects the world, and how events we look on as
"horrible," "tragic," and "history" are really just parts of our
The movie grabs you right from the start when one family, the Starzynskis, is taken from their home and packed into a small velodrome with 8,000 other French Jews before being transported to concentration camps. Viewers comment, "I didn't know this ever happened," or "How could people treat each other this way" when the truth is that this type of thing is still happening today in various parts of the world right under our noses. Oh, the faces have changed, along with the players, and the circumstances, but the cold, dark soul of humankind still carries on its atrocities behind a veil of self-righteousness, and complacent ignorance. This is what conflict looks like, and this is what it does to people. There are many more casualties than just the just the poor souls duped into putting on uniforms, and laying down their lives in that ironic twist called patriotism. They kill on the premise of preserving life, imprison others on the premise of creating freedom, and tear down the fiber of man on the premise of building up mankind. The worst part is that each and every one of us is just as guilty as any who ever gave an order or pulled a trigger because we allow this insanity to continue.
The movie has another side as well. It also shows how, even in times of adversity, men can have compassion. The movie's heroine, Sarah, likely would not be alive today if not for the compassion first of a camp guard, and second by a family who took pity upon her and her fellow escapee. And, then, there's the compassion of Sarah, herself, who, in trying to save her brother, ended up being his executioner, and found it impossible to live out her life in the knowledge of what she had done. It shows how even though mankind can collectively act in heartless fashion, there still remain among us those whose hearts have not turned to stone, and who still feel the power of the bonds of brotherhood. Despite all of the circumstances surrounding that "different" Summer of '42, Sarah does not place the blame on any other but herself, and, after attempts to erase her past fail, she takes her own life.
No, no matter what you may feel, this movie is not about the past. This movie only uses the past to illustrate the present. All of us who sit around content with our relative peace while innocent lives are taken in Afghanistan, while mothers abandon their children in Somalia, and while atrocity still affects the world like the festering sore of some deadly infection are just as guilty as if we'd done the deeds ourselves. Like Sarah, we will all find that we cannot hide peace in some closet, lock it away for days, and hope that we can return to find it just as we left it. And, also like Sarah, once we discover what we have done to our world, we will have to try to find a way to live with ourselves in the realization of what we have done.
Most movies about the Second World War and the Holocaust show the massive killings of Jews by the Germans. This movie shows the French participation in the holocaust and it shows it with intense analysis of how it affected two women: Sarah a young girl who leaves her brother in a closet assuming she can come back to get him and a journalist who is researching the story years later and discovers how her own family was involved in war issues. Sarah's story is well presented, with the most tragic and sad events of her young life and how they affected her later life. Its a well told story that allows the viewer to see the war and its effects on a lovely and courageous young women. The journalist's story shows how even those who want to know about the war find it difficult to put the pieces together. And it also shows how traumatic it is for the people who try to piece it together. The message is that the holocaust affected us all in different ways but those who lived at the time and those who suffered deportation, even if they did not encounter death, were deeply wounded in more ways than is imaginable. I recommend this movie. Its scenes, music and the flow of events are wonderful. You are always with the story. And the analysis of the human suffering and the wounds of the war are very well portrayed. and in more ways that any one of us will ever be able to understand.
I was invited to this movie and had no idea of what it was about. Well it did not take long to know it was another holocaust story! I too like the way it was done with an opening into the dark past, about one week after I was born, so we're looking at almost 70 years ago, then we move back and force into last year 2009(not counting the last two days in 2011). There is a point made clear that this horror actually in this case was mainly perpetrated by French people themselves. It seems inconceivable, but the sad truth is that Jews weren't really the flavour of the era in Europe and this certainly made the task easier for the Nazis. But this story is really focused on one little girl who is caught in a two fold tragedy, perhaps one fold to prevent another. This impact the rest of the story with enormous consequences. We are to follow it through the research of a journalist who became obsessed with her finding about it. A well worth effort for all concerned. I will have to come back here for those talented and knowledgeable reviewers to learn a little more about it. But for now I have to say it was an excellent film
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sarah Starzynski, a child, is among the nearly 10,000 Paris Jews
rounded up by the French police and turned over to the Nazis for
extermination. She hides her younger brother and carries the key to his
The film goes back and fourth from the wartime period to modern period. The Thomas' story line pales in comparison to the impact of the war time story. The flash forwards while often distracting, and frequently conversations in restaurants, are a needed break from the gut wrenching intensity and horror of the holocaust story.
A good but stoic performance by Thomas is dwarfed by the performance of Melusine Mayance as the young Sarah.
It is a excellent movie that will not get wide distribution. It's a story that must be told. It took 53 years for the French government to apologize for the atrocity. An outstanding example of the emotional power of cinema.
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