Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
“We’re all a product of history,” says one of the key characters who helps journalist Julia Jarmond on her investigative report on the events of the notorious Vel’d’Hiv roundup on July 16, 1942 in the new film Sarah’s Key. Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas), while working on a special anniversary piece of the Vel’d’Hiv roundup of Jewish families in Paris during World War 2, begins to become obsessed with finding out the fate of one of the children, Sarah, who never ended up on the deportation list.
During Julia’s search, the film goes back in time to 10-year old Sarah Starzynski (Melusine Mayance) on the day she and her parents are about to be taken away by the French police. Desperate to protect her younger brother, she locks him in a bedroom cupboard – their secret hiding place – and promises to come back for him soon. Sarah, not really understanding at first where she and her parents are headed and for how long, begins to become desperate to find a way to get back to her little brother and free him from his closet prison. As Julia continues her research on the fate of Sarah and her brother, she stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link Sarah to her and her husband.
Intriguing and moving, Sarah’s Key tells half of a compelling story of a girl and her struggle to save her young brother which gives her the determination to never give up. Perhaps the best thing about the movie is young Melusine Mayance’s performance as Sarah. She captures wonderfully the innocence of childhood games and the true horrors of what her character must endure to survive. This is hands-down a remarkable breakout performance (it should be seen and remembered during Oscar season).
Kristin Scott Thomas is very effective as Julia, the journalist who becomes obsessed and eventually consumed by her search for the truth about Sarah and her fate. It’s unfortunate that the other half of the story regarding the journalist and her ideas of love and family slow and clutter the film, as well as making it overly melodramatic. The constant going back and forth from the present Paris to 1942 Paris at first is a convenient tact to connect the two stories, but ultimately detracts and interrupts from the film’s most interesting story. It also makes the pacing of the movie uneven and slow.
Showing an engaging and at times horrific story of the French’s not so long ago past with interesting, sympathetic characters and strong performances Sarah’s Key is a film that shouldn’t be missed.
Sarah’s Key was released on July 22, 2011 and is rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing situations involving the Holocaust.