DVD review: Sarah's Key
Earlier this year The Round Up, written and directed by Rose Bosch, brought the story of how in 1942, German-occupied Paris saw French police rounding up French Jews on behalf of the Nazis, taking them to the Winter Velodrome, before sending them off to camps.
French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, obviously interested in this particular part of history, comes at this event from a slightly different angle, basing his story on Tatiana de Rosnay's 2008 novel.
Ten year-old Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance) is at home in her Parisian apartment when the French gendarmes burst in. Their arrival wasn't completely unexpected though, which gave Sarah enough time to get her little brother Michel inside a secret closet. She locks him in and tells him not to move until she gets back. To make him secure, she locks him in and takes the key with her.
Meanwhile, back in present day, American journalist Julia (Kristin Scott-Thomas) is organising work on an apartment that her French husband inherited from his grandparents. It's a stressful time in her life; not only is there the move to plan, but her husband is also getting a new job that will make all their lives even more chaotic.
The magazine she's currently writing for want her to write a story for them regarding the round up of French Jews in Paris in '42. As her apartment is in the area that it all took place, she decides to delve a little deeper to see if the apartment they have may have been part of it in some way. After some digging, which wasn't welcomed by her father-in-law, Julia discovers that the Starzynki family lived there during this troubling time.
Julia then puts her investigative knowledge to good use to uncover exactly what happened to that little girl after she left her brother behind on that fateful day.
In order to develop Sarah's story, the film frequently flashes back in history as Julia uncovers the truth surrounding Sarah's life from that night on. To a certain extent, the film takes on too much in order to tell these two interwoven stories. The simple fact is, the more historical tale is far more compelling than any of the modern day stuff.
Although Scott-Thomas gives a notable performance, her story isn't really necessary in order to tell Sarah's. It would of course be different if the book was based on fact, but as it's a work of fiction, Julia's story is completely redundant. On top of that, it's also on the far-fetched side. The story begins telling Sarah's story, and then as luck would have it, it just so happens to be the apartment she used to live in that Julia, the journalist, now finds herself moving into.
It's this contrived plot that certainly takes away some of the emotional impact of the film. Surely there must have been some real life stories that would have given this project weightier depth emotionally, as opposed to this somewhat over the top plot? That said, young Mayance gives a superb account of herself playing the young Sarah. And even though there's an artificialness to the story, the film still manages to be genuinely moving in places.
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