“Sarah’s Key” ia a harrowing movie to watch. Unlike many other Holocaust dramas, it uses modern-day soap opera techniques to explore the story of Sarah, a young Jewish Parisian girl in 1942. This makes the film feel more horrifying, current and real.
Two plots run in parallel. The magnificent Kristin Scott Thomas is a journalist in the present (2002), exploring the events of 1942. Specifically, Julia is looking at the people who were rounded up in the winter velodrome (Vel d’Hiv) by the French, not the Nazis.
If you saw Rose Bosch’s excellent “La Rafle” (The Round Up) a few months ago, you will know the history behind “Sarah’s Key”.
Scott Thomas speaks magnificent French and is terrific in this. The subtitles let her and the rest of the cast down. There are schoolboy howlers here that completely mangle the meaning of the French.
Melusine Mayance plays Sarah. When her family is rounded up, she locks her brother in a hidden wardrobe and the tension of not knowing his fate keeps you on the edge of your seat for the first hour of the film.
Mayance has a fabulous future. She is a truly brilliant young actress. We are pushed and pulled between Sarah’s participation in the events and Scott Thomas as Julia, who is researching them.
Of the other actors here, Niels Arestrup, Gisele Casadessus (“La Tete En Friche”) and Aidan Quinn stand out most.
There’s a frisson from seeing the author Tatiana de Rosnay – who wrote the book – playing a cafe customer.
The last part of the movie is occupied by Scott Thomas chasing down the story of what happened after the war. She realises her husband’s family was involved with Sarah, in a bizarre twist that works well.
But, somehow, this last section feels a little more flat than the wartime story. It’s still compelling. You want to know what happened. It’s just that the details of modern day research interest us a little less than the sad eyes of the young Sarah.
Gilles Paquet-Brenner directs to great effect. I suspect many critics will hate the way in which he milks the emotions out of each moment. I felt the pathos made the story more real.
Pascal Ridao’s cinematography preserves an accurate sense of 1942 while showing great physical movement. The slow close ups on the faces enhance the personality of each of the characters.
Intending to go to a quiet performance, I ended up in a huge crowd of cinema goers. The Stratford Picturehouse was packed full of older people who all behaved well and kept quiet during the film. Listening to their discussions afterwards, they enjoyed “Sarah’s Key” with a lighter spirit than I did.
If you can handle Holocaust stories, do go see this. It’s a good movie. Just do not expect to come out of this feeling good.