This sombre Holocaust drama based on a best-selling French novel finds Kristin Scott Thomas in typically fine form as an investigative journalist exploring French complicity in the notorious Vel d’Hiv roundup of Parisian Jews in July 1942.
An American woman married to a Frenchman, Scott Thomas’s Julia is researching the shameful episode – in which some 13,000 Jews were arrested by local police and held in the Vélodrome d’Hiver cycle stadium before being interned and sent to the death camps – when she discovers that the apartment in Paris’s now-chic Marais district belonging to her husband’s family has a link with the tragedy.
We learn the fate of the Jewish family that once occupied the flat in the film’s parallel narrative, which revolves around 10-year-old Sarah (Mélusine Mayance) and her snap decision when the police raid their home to lock her four-year-old brother in a closet for protection.
Sarah’s half of the film is gripping and moving, and the grim scenes in the cycle stadium itself are particularly well staged, as is the even more harrowing scene in the Beaune-la-Rolande transit camp, which sees children torn from their mothers’ arms. Yet the film’s other half is less successful, despite Scott Thomas’s excellent performance.
That’s partly because of the contrived and plodding way in which the present-day story unfolds, partly because of the clunkiness with which the script spoon-feeds the viewer information, but mostly because Julia’s marital woes are pitifully tiny compared with the enormity of the events she is researching. In spite of this imbalance, Sarah’s Key still makes a powerful impact thanks to the vividness and urgency of its historical scenes.
Released on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 28th November by Studio Canal.
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