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Sarah’s Key (2011)

| November 6, 2011 | 0 Comments

Sarah’s Key is a movie told in two parts that cut back and forth in time, but never really convincingly fits the parts together.  One is a deeply emotional story of a 10 year-old French girl named Sarah who survives the holocaust with courage and fast thinking.  The other takes place in the present and tells the dull and uninteresting story of a journalist (Kristen Scott-Thomas) who is investigating Sarah’s story for a magazine article.  Sadly, it is the uninteresting part that dominates and eventually takes over the film’s third act.

The good part should have been the whole movie, it takes place in 1942 and centers on Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance) who, as the movie opens, becomes part of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, in which French police in Nazi-occupied Paris rounded up more than 13,000 non-Jewish citizens who were shipped off to concentration camps in Germany and Poland.  On that day, Sarah denies her captors one victim, her little brother Michel, whom she hides in a secret closet in their flat before her family is arrested – the key with which she locks the door stays in her possession.

Sarah and her parents are sent to to Beaune-la-Rolande, a transit camp where her major focus becomes getting back to Paris to free her brother.  That involves an incredible journey that takes across the French countryside where she is adopted and cared for by a loving couple who become her surrogate parents.  Sad to say, that story occupies the film’s first half hour.  It is so heartbreaking and so compelling that I kept wishing that the whole movie had just focused on her story.  The greatest achievement of the film is the performance by young Mélusine Mayance as Sarah, who is a natural actor with bright eyes and an expressive face.  She’s a very natural actor.

The uninteresting part dominates the picture, it involves a modern-day journalist named Julia (Kristin Scott-Thomas) who begins investigating the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup and wants to do a story for her magazine.  Very little actual physical evidence exists about the roundup and by a bizarre coincidence (too bizarre if you ask me), she and her husband just happen to be renovating the very Paris flat that Sarah and her family occupied.  There is no real connection between Julia, Sarah and the flat and so we are left to wonder what the point of the modern day story was. Nor is there any point to the problems that Julia is having with her husband, who is none too thrilled to learn that his wife is pregnant.

She begins investigating Sarah’s story and uncovers much about her history.  As she digs deeper the details become spotty and we are less and less privy to the actual details of what happened to her.  The story begins strongly telling us the details of Sarah’s experience but then pulls away just as our emotional investment is at its peak.  The last half hour of the film rides on a very muddy track as Julia uncovers a relative of Sarah’s (Aiden Quinn) but by then we are so far into the story that a new character means basically nothing.  And no points for guessing what she names the baby.

What we are left with is a lot of disconnected material about Julia’s life.  Based on Sarah’s experience, do we really care about Julia’s pregnancy?  Do we care that her husband isn’t too crazy about it?  Do we care about the story she’s writing?  No, because the holocaust story was so emotional and so compelling that we feel that the modern story is an intrusion.  What does one really have to do with the other?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2011) View IMDB Filed in: Drama