Elle s'appelait Sarah (2010)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Does the movie have any downsides? Well, maybe jumping back and forth between the present and the past is a little confusing, but it doesn't really drag the movie down. To be certain, I had never heard of the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup before seeing "Sarah's Key". The main that is that this is part of history, it and needs to get told so that it never happens again. Really good movie.
In 2009, the American journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her French husband Bertrand Tezac (Frédéric Pierrot) plan to reform his apartment in Paris to live with their teenage daughter. Julia is assigned to write an article about the notorious deportation of French Jews to German concentration camps in 1942. During her investigation, she learns that the apartment of her husband's family belonged to Sarah's family. She becomes obsessed by Sarah's life and to find the fate of the little girl.
I have just bought the Blu-Ray "Elle s'appelait Sarah", a.k.a. "Sarah's Key", and I found it a perfect movie about a shameful and not divulged period of France's history in World War II. The writer Tatiana De Rosnay has written a magnificent novel and Serge Joncour and Gilles Paquet- Brenner have written an engaging screenplay. The director Gilles Paquet- Brenner made a heartbreaking film that is never corny.
Kristin Scott Thomas is one of the best contemporary European actresses and she has another awesome performance in the role of a flawed, stubborn and selfish character that speaks perfect English and French and becomes obsessed to discover the truth about her husband's family. Her charm and elegance is impressive for a forty-nine-year-old woman. But the girl Mélusine Mayance "steals" the movie in the role of Sarah. The cinematography and music score are beautiful and costumes cover different periods and locations. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "A Chave de Sarah" ("The Sarah's Key")
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.
A two pronged film with a harrowing account of French anti-Semitism in World War II paralleling a contemporary account of a reporter discovering the details of one Jewish family destroyed by those events. Eventually the tales collide, and coincide, and another kind of meaning arises about accountability and acceptance.
At first this tale might strike you as both forced--the two narratives are very disjointed and separate, back and forth--and painfully familiar--another riveting, heart wrenching version of Jewish suffering and determination during the Holocaust. But stick with it, because it picks up complexity and nuance as it goes. Once you realize the roundup and mistreatment and eventual killing of the Jews is led in this case by French officials, you know this has a different kind of chill to it. And then you find that the contemporary story is literally connected to the 1940s story.
The leading actress in the 2010 thread, Kristin Scott Thomas, is one of those rare actresses who can command the screen with quiet brooding. She's convincing in a way that we identify with, and our sympathies are with her from the start. As she uncovers the facts of the past, and faces varying degrees of concern and indifference, she herself undergoes a transformation. This, by the end, is really what the story is about, the pertinence for our own times. The specific events around the title idea, the young girl's key, are horrifying to the point of being slightly sensationalist, but the rest of the movie is so studied and careful, you take it in stride.
In all I was surprised and eventually deeply moved by this movie. It's filmed with exquisite camera-work and is sharply edited. And most of all, director Gilles Paquet-Brenner gets the most from all the actors, from the children in the prison camp to the adults on all sides showing their human sides in restrained ways, without caricature.
Based on real events, the film comfortably blends the story of Sarah from 1942 onwards with the almost obsessive need Julia Jarmond has to know what became of the child Sarah once the war ended. Her quest takes her from Paris to New York to Florence, and then back to New York.
This story is beautifully told. Performances are solid and realistic, and this is aided by a tight and relevant script. Despite the often sad and distressing subject matter, the line between story-telling and voyeurism is never crossed, and emotion is delivered with realism and is never mawkish.
Kristin Scott Thomas deserves a special mention, as does Melusine Mayance who played Sarah as a child. Both performances drew me in to engage with the story at close range.
If I could give this 12 out of 10 I would!
(1) The drama of french Jews, seized by french authorities and imprisoned in the Velodrome d'Hiver, in appalling sanitary conditions; families torn apart with their members held in french concentration camps during some days; many thousands of innocent people shipped in trains towards German extermination camps. This drama is not presented as a journalistic matter, but as lived by Sarah.
(2) The saga and suffering of the Jewish girl (Sarah), who passes through severe ordeals to escape from her captors, in order to free her beloved small brother from the closet where she made him hide, in an attempt to save him from the french police who were seizing Jews to hand them to the Germans, and who discover that her small brother died in the closet.
(3) The saga of the American-french journalist, Julia, who decides to disclose the story of the Jewish family, the Starzynskis, who use to live in the parisian apartment where her french husband (Bertrand) is planning to live. Bertrand's family started to live in this apartment a few days after the Starzynskis were seized by french authorities to be deported. Part of Julia's saga is also, the decision to keep her baby instead of making an abortion.
(4) The sense of humanity of some people when most of the humanity has lost the sense of mercy and commits the worst crimes against humanity. The kindness and generosity of the Dufaure, hiding, adopting Sarah as their daughter and raising her. The generosity of Bertrand's grand father who helps the Dufaure to raise Sarah sending regularly some cash to them.
(5) The celebration of truth and life when, at the end of the film, William, Sarah's son, meets Julia to thanks her for having helped him to discover the former and dramatic life of his mother, and discovers during this rendezvous that Julia put the name of Sarah to the little girl who was born, thanks to Sarah's decision of not aborting. This last scene is a kind of perpetuation of the life of the original Sarah, and William realizes it. I also allow myself to add that the immortality of each of us is the result of the remembrance of the memories of each of us by those who will live after we have died.
This film is perfect. The actors are impeccable. The timing of the action is perfect. So the deserves to be seen, specially by those who like to weep a little.
In the City of Lights, darkness is exposed. Many French at that time turn their back on the plight of the Jewish children just as the journalist's husband turns his back on his responsibility to care for his unborn child. Julia discovers her husband's grandfather did the honorable thing, but her husband does not choose to do so, and their marriage ends in divorce. The journalist's co-workers marvel that the French could let this happen in the middle of Paris. On the 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade, people today continue to sanction the killing of unborn children. Irony occurs when the journalist views thousands of the perished Jewish children's pictures. There are no names or faces to affix to walls in the largest Holocaust of the 20th century. Another irony is the stench that filled the apartment when the journalist's husband's grandparents took over the flat, an obvious clue that something is rotten in Paris. The aftermath of abortion is not so obvious. Sarah's death indicates her lifelong guilt over the demise of her brother. Julia will never have to live with that guilt because she made the honorable decision. Her daughter, Sarah, is the key. Her life is evidence of a decision to do the right thing.
The film opens in Paris in 1942 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. The Strazynskis are placed in a filth transit facility in Paris awaiting the inevitable: the father is sent to concentration camp first followed by the separation of the mother and Sarah - the children are separated form their parents and sent to a special camp where in time Sarah and her young friend manage to escape so that Sarah can return to Paris to rescue her brother Michel. Once in Paris Sarah must dress as a boy to disguise her from the German investigators. When she finally is able to return to her home she uses the key she has held in secret to open the door of the closet where she hid her brother and obviously finds him dead from starvation. Sarah is cared for by Jules and Geneviève Dufaure (Niels Arestrup and Dominique Frot) until she is old enough to care for herself (the older Sarah is played with superb facility by Mélusine Mayance) and we lose sight of her.
In 2009, a journalist named Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas) 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. Julia has private pains: she discovers that she is pregnant after being told she could never conceive and faces the fact that her husband Bertrand (Frédéric Pierrot) does not want her to keep the pregnancy. Julia becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Sarah and in doing so she slowly uncovers the difficult history of a girl so brave that she risked her life in the time of war only to become unable to retain her name, changing her life in such a way that she marries, has a son, and dies in a sad way. Julia uncovers all of this as she feels that in past times her young daughter Zoé (Karina Hin) could have been Sarah. Julia's life changes considerably and she returns to her home in New York where she discovers the final truths about Sarah and her key.
One of the aspects of this film that makes it so meaningful is the fact the Kristin Scott Thomas can move so easily between French and English - a small fact, perhaps, as she is totally bilingual, but it helps the audience to understand her obsession to discover the truth about France's darkest hour. The supporting cast is excellent and the recreation of WW II Paris is palpably real. This is a brilliant film - one that deserves the attention of every one on so many levels.
Siding with Adolf Hitler, and hoping to gain favor, the French authorities round up many Jews and send them to the Vel d'Hiv detention centre.
In an attempt to save her brother, little Sarah (played masterfully by Melusine Mayance) locks her little brother in the closet and hides the key on herself. Once she realizes this may have the opposite effect, Sarah is determined to escape and free her brother. No matter what happens, she keeps that key close to her at all times, even while the most heinous atrocities go on around her.
Now flash forward 70 years or so, and we meet journalist Julia Jarmand, an American living in Paris (played excellently by the always wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas). The movie plays out this type of parallel construction cutting back from Sarah's efforts to save her little brother, to Scott Thomas investigating the story about the atrocities at the Vel d'Hiv detention centre.
For the record, this type of parallel construction really works in the film. Every time we see Julia Jarmand investigating the story, it's like a sigh of relief after watching the terrible moments little Sarah must endure to get back to her family's residence and unlock her starving brother.
Julia discovers a connection to little Sarah and her story and the movie takes a turn for the interesting. That is all I want to say, as I don't wish to give away too much. See the movie; it will likely be the French entrant in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars this year. Was one of the best films I saw this year.
Calling this a "holocaust film" ignores its two major themes: (1) family secrets prove no match for a journalist's desire to connect the dots to reveal the "mystery history" behind them; (2) when an entire country buries its past (in this case, France), it silences the stories of unlikely heroes in the process -- but rarely forever.
"Sarah's Key" deserves more than the limited release it has gotten so far, perhaps due to the "holocaust film assumption" and some lukewarm reviews. This cinematic gem is as flawlessly cast, directed, scripted and paced as the Weinstein Company's triumph of last year "The King's Speech" -- and just as deserving of Oscar attention.
Dramas based on historical events are frequently budgeted and filmed as already-familiar sweeping sagas told on a grand scale. By trusting in its characters rather than its big events to move the plot and the audience, "Sarah's Key" gives us a new cinematic template with which to examine and portray the past and why it organically enthralls us today.
I've seen hundreds of world war II films, done tons of research on the era, read lots of books, and I had never even heard of the event in France that this movie based itself on. It was quite a great thing to experience such a unique story. Something different from all the other movies of the same genre (and a welcome relief from all of these darn superhero movies nowadays).
The story is unique, and that in and of itself is worth knowing. I loved it. Kept me on the edge of my seat. I kept wondering about this and that. How was this going to wrap up?
But I was a bit disappointed at the end. The general theme of this being a movie of the event that happened in France fades away and you are now focused on the journalist. The movie just seems to go on too long and just dives into the unknown with characters we're not really familiar with.
The ending was sudden. And I think the idea was good, but was not executed the best. It was playing around the emotions of the son, who we don't really get to know that well. It was just...off.
All in all, it's a good movie to watch. I would suggest it. But don't expect to be watching another holocaust movie. The holocaust scenes end about half way through. The rest is set in the modern day and centers around the journalist trying to find out about the little girl.
It is a good movie which highlights the story itself, both past and present; Kristín splendid thomas Scott and the two actresses who play the character of Sarah (the girl I remember not having any dialogue but we passed with the look and body language weight that carries in her soul).
It is a very sad but highly recommended film, to reconsider what would we face the difficult decisions that arise in the film.
The story is shot and told in a simple manner and the two stories intertwine, I think perfectly, although inevitably has more dramatic weight than last. And as always, the French cinema remains a reference when counting the relationships between a man and a woman. In that sense, it is delicious the first meeting between Kristin Scott Thomas and Aidan Quinn.
Great soundtrack, with narrative pace, great atmosphere and good use of flashbacks.
People who believe in the systems,are willing o commit murder, just so they can polish their little grey heads.
A great movie, with a not very happy ending, and definitely not frances finest hour.
In Denmark (im a dane) ordinary people delayed and prevented the Gestapo and their hired hands -the danish police - from taking our Jewish neighbours, instead we hide them, and smugled the to Sweden.