“When a story is told, it is not forgotten. It becomes a memory of who we were; the hope of what we can become.”
Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s Sarah’s Key is a bilingual French film originally released at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It’s American release first came in the summer of 2011 & then it was re-released early in the holiday season. It has received lukewarm reviews after TIFF, though it was considered to be amongst the best films premiered there – a field that included The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, Incendies, and In a Better World.
The film is mainly in French with its basic plot about the July 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in Paris as it impacted the Jewish Starzynski family through the eyes of the eldest child in the family, 10-year old Sarah, played wonderfully by Mélusine Mayance. Before she was arrested, Sarah hid her younger brother Michel, Paul Mercier, from the Vichy directed police by locking him in their bedroom closet & keeping the key. She made him promise not to leave or make a noise until she returned. The subplot is mainly in English as American journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) moves into the Paris apartment in which her father-in-law, Édouard Tezak (Michel Duchaussoy), grew up while she researches Vel’ d’Hiv. The story becomes very personal to her when she finds out that the Starzynskis lived there immediately before the Tezaks. Julia finds out she’s pregnant as she learns about the fate of the Starzynskis & thousands of other Jews who were being persecuted, tortured & killed as a result of the Vichy Roundup. To complicate matters, Julia’s publisher husband Bertrand, played by Frédéric Pierrot, wants her to have an abortion – a decision with which she absolutely disagrees!
Sarah’s Key is based on French journalist & author Tatiana de Rosnay’s 2007 novel of the same name. The screenplay was penned by Paquet-Brenner & Serge Joncour. Tatiana also makes an uncredited cameo in the film. Max Richter’s score helps weave the two plot lines together nicely. One of the best performances in Sarah’s Key comes from Niels Arestrup (Grandfather in War Horse) who, as Jules Dufaure, helps Sarah get free after her break from Beaune-la-Rolande Deportation Camp. And Aidan Quinn plays an important brief role as William in the film. Elaborating on his impact on the plot would be a spoiler but, as usual, he doesn’t disappoint. The lone Oscar connection in Sarah’s Key is Kristin Scott Thomas’ 1997 Best Actress Nomination as Katharine in The English Patient at the 69th Academy Awards.
Sarah’s Key is an examination of the consequences of one’s decision, the bonds that connect us all, the simultaneous strength & frailty of the human spirit, and the importance of human dignity & life itself. If you have the time & like World War II history, rent Sarah’s Key. I think you’ll like it. All in all, I agree with the post-TIFF reviews: Sarah’s Key is a good film, not a great film. It stumbles, not so much in the back & forth interaction between the two times, but in the final transition from Julia’s research world to her present day world. 3 stars!