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French WW2 Drama Shines In Past And Present

'Sarah's Key' works as both a historical and a modern day statement on the tolls of war.

Sarah’s Key is an excellent film about a little known piece of World War II history...the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup. 

Over two days in July 1942, French Jews (men, women and many, many children) were rounded up and sent to holding centers in Paris and then camps in France and eventually, German-run concentration camps. 

The conditions were unspeakable...in the holding center, they were forced to lie among their own filth and waste.  Once in the French camps, conditions were not much better.  Basically, everything you have heard or seen or know about German-run WWII concentration camps, this is on the same level. 

But, this was the French.  Not the Nazis.  Not the SS.  Rather, the French police.  Yes, at the time France was occupied by Germany, but still...these were Frenchmen who corralled up other French men and women and children. 

This film, based on the 2007 bestselling novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, tells the story of one family who is taken away in 1942 during the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup and, in the present, one woman journalist who is determined to get to the truth. 

In 1942, the young girl of the displaced family, Sarah, is determined, above anything else, to get to her brother whom she locked in a closet when the French police arrived to take the family away. 

In the present day, the journalist, Julia, moves into a Parisian apartment with her family and, as she's researching a story on the Roundup, she discovers that the new apartment has ties with this devastating page in French history.  Since the apartment belongs to her husband’s family, her researching the story takes a toll on her relationship. 

Now, I did not read the novel by Rosnay so I cannot speak on how this adaptation hews to the book.  But, judging the film on its own merits, the film does a great job of capturing the right mix of emotions.  Yes, the story speaks volumes here.  Even a documentary on this period of history would be a moving, emotive work. 

But Sarah’s Key takes the grisly historical element and twists it with a modern time filled with hope and love.  Kristin Scott Thomas once again balances perfectly between both French and English to stand out as one of the more versatile actresses working today.  The surprise here is the young girl who plays Sarah, Mélusine Mayance.  Sarah is a demanding role and Mayance succeeds in capturing the right amount of hope and anguish in Sarah’s troubled young face.  A MUST SEE movie for all. 

Sarah’s Key: 2010, PG-13, 111 minutes, mostly in French but some in English, directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance and Aiden Quinn.  The Niles Library owns this title on DVD. 

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