Based on “The New York Times: Best Seller” by Tatiana de Rosnay, “Sarah’s Key” is, for the most part, a very involving drama. Although the film wobbles a bit in the third act, it is still very much worth seeing. Be warned this is a very sad story.
The story concerns an actual historical incident in which the Vichy government, in a bizarre bit of political maneuvering, decided it was not comfortable with the Germans coming into France to take away its Jewish citizens. As a result the government had the French police do the job and hand the Jews over to the Nazis.
As her family is about to be led from their apartment, Sarah makes a split second decision on how to save her younger brother. It is something that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
Thomas plays Julia Jarmond, a present day journalist, in France, who is writing a magazine piece on the historical incident, called the Vel’ d’Hiv, in which France rounded up its Jewish citizens in Paris. The film cuts between Sarah’s ordeal in 1946 and Julia’s experience researching the event. Eventually Sarah’s story informs Julia’s life.
In the film’s first and second acts we get to know young Sarah while following her harrowing experiences. The scenes of Sarah, her parents and 13,000 Jews being crowded into a sports arena, the Velodrome, which had no food or bathroom facilities, are realistic and frightening. “What could we do? Call the police?” a now elderly witness to the event tells Julia. Seventy-one thousand Jews were eventually deported.
Later in the film, when Sarah has grown up (now played by Charlotte Poutrel), we do not get to know her as well as we did in the story’s earlier parts. What we learn of Sarah’s later life is told through people to whom Julia speaks, while continuing her research. The story of the older Sarah is not as compelling, or as filled in, as the film’s earlier sequences involving the younger Sarah. The result is that the later part of the story is not as strong as the film’s earlier scenes. Not having read the book, I had the feeling that these later sequences were trying to telescope the book by jumping from one event to the next. However, Julia’s story remains consistent throughout.
Although fiction, “Sarah’s Key” is a reminder of a terrible historical event. It is also an observant drama about how the past can inform the present. We are told early in the film, “Sometimes our own stories are the ones we cannot tell, but if we don’t tell them the story becomes something else, forgotten.”
“Sarah’s Key” is playing locally at Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston Street and uptown at the very elegant Paris Theatre, 4 West 58 St.
Sarah’s Key, Director Giles Paquet Brenner, 2011, Studio 37, 111 minutes, PG-13