Friday, July 22, 2011

“Sarah’s Key” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the French drama “Sarah’s Key”, starring Kristin Scott Thomas and (in a small role) Aidan Quinn.



An American journalist living in Paris is assigned to write a World War II story for a magazine article – but when her research causes her to investigate the life of a girl from that period, will learning the truth about her risk losing her own family?


Julia (Thomas) and her family have moved to France so she can work on pieces for the Paris bureau of the news magazine that employs her.  Being assigned an article on the French Holocaust known as The Vel' d'Hiv Roundup where the French government had their police arrest Jews living in their country so they could be turned over to the Nazis who occupied their land in mid-July of 1942, her research uncovers the amazing story of a girl named Sarah, who was only 10 years old at the time.  Trying to save her little brother Michel from the Nazis, Sarah locks him in a secret closet in their apartment and makes him promise not to leave until the family’s return in a few days. 

While learning Sarah’s secrets, Julia also winds up learning secrets of her in-laws as well.  It seems that by coincidence, the Paris apartment Julia and her family are about to occupy was the same apartment in which little Sarah lived with her own family during the war; the family of Julia’s in-laws moved into the apartment just weeks after Sarah’s family had been arrested and they have handed down the flat to their son and his wife.  Simultaneously, Julia discovers that she is now pregnant – something of a miracle since doctors told her she would never be able to have more children after giving birth to her daughter, who is now an adolescent.

As Julia uncovers layer upon layer of Sarah’s story, her in-laws’ own mystery begins to unravel, with family members soon learning the horror of the long-kept secret.  Combining this ugly past with the fact that he is faced with a future of suddenly having to care for a quite unexpected baby, Julia’s husband grows angry and distant; not helping matters any is the fact that Julia no longer wishes to live in the family’s apartment upon knowing its history.  On top of that, she is now gallivanting all over the globe in pursuit of a resolution to Sarah’s saga.  But will Julia ever find the truth about Sarah’s ending – and will her family remain intact upon its revelation?


Just in case you need another reminder for why you need to hate the French, along comes “Sarah’s Key” – somewhat ironic, since it’s a French production.  When it was announced in class that this was the movie we would be seeing, a number of people audibly gasped and sighed – all of them women who likely read the novel on which it was based.  While you might be especially taken with this film if you are Jewish or a woman (or both), I have to say that I found it a little on the melodramatic side for my tastes and therefore can’t really feel totally comfortable giving it a recommendation. 

Part of the problem with the movie comes with its heavy-handed treatment of the story and its dialog, not to mention the “magical thinking” nature of things:  Julia’s pregnancy, characterized as a “miracle” (perhaps an immaculate conception, given the apparent aloofness between husband and wife), the coincidence of the apartment and the impossible finding of Sarah’s now middle-aged son (Aidan Quinn).  Especially painful to watch – and listen to, due to the dialog – are the last scenes of the movie, when the actors are given the opportunity for some scenery chewing and the character’s closing remarks falling on your ears as if it were something like a benediction when it seems as though it was intended to be deeply philosophical. 

Prior to the screening, our instructor interviewed Phil Rosenthal, writer/director/star of the hilarious documentary “Exporting Raymond” (see my review here).  Rosenthal was there to promote the fact that the DVD of his documentary is soon to be released.  Just in case you never got around to catching this movie in the theaters in its understandably limited release, I strongly encourage you to rent the DVD.  Rosenthal is one of the most naturally funny raconteurs I have ever had the pleasure of hearing; he has the unique ability to find humor in just about any situation. 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Speak Your Piece, Beeyotch!