One of the darkest moments in French history occurred in 1942 Paris when French officials rounded up over 10,000 Jews and placed them in local camps. Eventually over 8,000 were sent off to German concentration camps. As 10-year old Sarah and her family are being arrested, she hides her younger brother in a closet. After realizing she will not be allowed to go home, Sarah does whatever she can to get back to her brother. In 2009, a journalist named Julia is on assignment to write a story on the deported Jews in 1942. When she moves into her father-in-law's childhood apartment, she realizes it once belonged to the Strazynski family, and their daughter Sarah. Written by
The cab that Julia gets into has a medallion number of 1M11. The one she gets out of has a medallion number of 7H83. See more »
And so I write this for you, My Sarah. With the hope that one day, when you're old enough, this story that lives with me, will live with you as well. When a story is told, it is not forgotten. It becomes something else, a memory of who we were; the hope of what we can become.
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A young girl's desperation to rescue her brother amid the horrors of the holocaust
Films about the holocaust are always grim, but the French production Sarah's Key adds a couple of twists that increase the stress.
The story begins in Paris in the summer of 1942 when the collaborationist Vichy government of France launches a round up of Jewish families. And here is the first cruel twist. It's not German troops breaking down doors, it is the Parisian police force, ever polite in its brutality. The second twist is more harrowing. Hearing the crashing on the front door, 10-year-old Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance) stuffs her younger brother into a secret closet (camouflaged as part of the bedroom wall) and locks the door.
Sarah and her parents are herded with thousands of other Jews into the Vélodrome d'Hiver, an indoor cycling arena, and left there without food, water or toilets. Here, Sarah's overarching struggle begins. She must rescue her brother.
From here on, Sarah's story is inter-cut with episodes from the present day when French-American investigative journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her architect husband start to renovate the apartment once occupied by the Starzynski family. Learning of the sad history of the "Vél d'Hiv", Julia starts digging into the apartment's history and tracing the fates of Sarah and her family.
The first two thirds of the film focus on Sarah's struggle. Separated from her parents, she seeks to escape from an internment camp and get back to Pari. As we follow her, we also watch as Julia discovers that, while both the adult Starzynskis died during the war, there is no record of what happened to Sarah and her brother.
And here is the dramatic oddity of Sarah's Key. The culmination of Sarah's quest occurs at about the 75-minute mark of this 111-minute film. The half-hour coda is necessary to tie up loose ends such as the fate of Julia's troubled marriage and the joys and disappointments of her search for Sarah. But the tension that carries the first two acts is lost.
Despite that loss, Sarah's Key packs an emotional wallop that will stay with you after you leave the theatre.
So its weak reception in the United States (it grossed just over $100,000 on just five screens when it opened there) is dispiriting. Perhaps the U.S. fear of subtitles is to blame: a good two-thirds of the film is in French with English subtitles. In fact, I suspect that writer-director Gilles Paquet-Brenner could have made the entire film in French, and that making Julia bilingual was his attempt to lure an American audience.
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