Sarah’s Key
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Sarah’s Key

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Sarah’s Key follows the joint stories of Sarah Starzynski (Melusine Mayance) as she endeavours to get back to the little brother she locked in the closet during her family’s arrest by French police in 1942, and Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott-Thomas), an American journalist covering the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup.

Sarah’s Key follows the joint stories of Sarah Starzynski (Melusine Mayance) as she endeavours to get back to the little brother she locked in the closet during her family’s arrest by French police in 1942, and Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott-Thomas), an American journalist covering the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup.

To date, Sarah’s Key – the book – has sold over two million copies worldwide. Tatiana de Rosnay’s story about a young girl swept up in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup struck a chord in the emotional clavicle of many a reader, detailing the horrendous events of July 1942 which entailed French police arresting more than thirteen thousand Jewish men, women and children and depositing them all in the Velodrome d’Hiver – a sports stadium – for five days without fresh air, toiletry facilities, food or water. The prisoners were eventually trucked off to extermination camps. Reviews for the book detail the pain and suffering of the victims, and the guilt and complicit responsibility of those who survived them.

The film changes tack. Or rather, it didn’t feel like a film about suffering and guilt as much as one about love and kindness – the relentless kinds that survive in cruel and inhumane or exceedingly dangerous circumstances. The love between Sarah’s family is one that pictures them in near-constant bodily contact. Their separation, into camp categories befitting their sex and age, physically wrenches apart this love, leaving it bleeding profusely. The guard that helps Sarah escape and the farmer who risks his own and his wife’s life by giving her shelter are similarly beacons in hazardous waters for the little girl.

I very rarely cry in movies, but persistent humanity in the face of unimaginable adversity was too much for my sentimental filters. French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s knack for highlighting the valour of the human heart wrung more than a few tears from these leathery ducts.

The plot itself has its pros and cons. The film strikes a nice balance between Sarah’s experiences of police brutality and Julia’s discovery of them, but this balance is upset halfway through the film when the Sarah loses her voice.

The gangly little girl who wouldn’t give up, played superbly by 10-year-old Mayance, disappears to be replaced by a twenty-something wallflower. Scott-Thomas, for her part, does her best to shoulder the rest of the film with her own brilliant turn as the committed journalist – but is hampered by some stilted soppiness along the way.

Paquet-Brennan succeeds at conveying that brand of unswerving humanity when it is most sorely needed. Unfortunately, he’s kind of annoyingly adept at shoving it down your throat when it’s not.


Review by Bianca Delaney