Sarah’s Key – Review


Based on the novel about a Holocaust survivor and the journalist who is piecing together her story

Based on the New York Times bestseller by Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah’s Key intertwines two completely different stories and creates a powerful look into a portion of the Holocaust that’s frequently overlooked. On July 16, 1942, Jews living in Paris were rounded up by French officials – not Nazis – and placed in a concrete sports stadium to await being sent to Auschwitz. Called the Vél’ d’Hiv Roundup this incident is rarely spoken of in America, or in France, and understandably so.

In 1942, as Paris officials raid the apartment home of the Starzynski family, little Sarah instructs her younger brother to hide in a closet. Proud of herself for protecting her younger brother, Sarah locks the closet door and keeps the key. The hours at the stadium tick by slowly, as the people inside aren’t given food, water, or any proper facilities, and Sarah soon realizes that she has sealed her brother’s fate. She becomes frantic to get home to him. Instead, the family is herded to a holding camp, a precursor to Auschwitz.

Sarah never loses sight of her determination to get home to her little brother Michel, even with all of the horror going on around her. She eventually escapes the camp and finds her way back home, but the story doesn’t stop there. We see Sarah throughout her life and see how greatly this incident impacted her life.

Sarah’s story is intercut with the story of modern day journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is writing a piece on the Vél’ d’Hiv Roundup, and whose family has just coincidentally moved into the same apartment that the Starzynski’s lived in. Julia slowly reveals the details in Sarah’s story through research and interviews, just as we the audience is seeing Sarah’s story unravel onscreen. Julia becomes deeply involved in the events of Sarah’s life, and her journey takes her to the US, to Italy, and back to the US again to track down Sarah’s living son William (Aidan Quinn).

The events in Julia’s life seem incredibly trivial compared to the hardships that Sarah is facing, and at times it seems a bit ridiculous to go back and forth. The present day scenes seem to just serve as exposition to further Sarah’s more important storyline. Towards the end of the film though, as Julia uncovers existing proof of Sarah’s life and meets William, the two storylines satisfyingly converge.

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner does an impressive job of capturing the isolation, claustrophobia, and horror of Sarah’s story, especially of her time at the camp. There’s one particular scene of the soldiers separating all of the children from their mothers that is especially difficult to watch. The tragedy of Sarah’s story is also thanks to the moving performance by newcomer Mélusine Mayance. The character of Julia has the potential to be one who really doesn’t serve any purpose other than to further Sarah’s plotline, but Kristin Scott Thomas brings humanity to her.

The Vél’ d’Hiv Roundup is one of many horrific events that took place during this period of time, and it’s fascinating that de Rosnay chose this particular event to write about in her novel. Even without having to read the book, with Sarah’s Key, has done an excellent job of creating a heart-wrenching and compelling onscreen story.

Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Notable Cast:M Kristin Scott-Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Aidan Quinn, Frédéric Pierrot
Writer(s): Gilles Paquet-Brenner and Serge Joncour, based on the novel “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay

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