Friday, 19 August 2011

Review - Sarah's Key (2010 - Dir. Gilles Paquet-Brenner)

Sarah's Key starts out so intriguingly that you're willing it to be a really good film. Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas - I've Loved You So Long) is investigating the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup of Jews in France in 1942 for a magazine article. She soon finds out that an apartment that she is renovating with her husband, passed down from his grandparents, is linked to the atrocity. 

Probably like many people, I hadn't even heard of Vel' d'Hiv'. The audience's perspective is most likely represented by the two younger journalists working at the magazine. It's a shame that they are both so irritating. But don't worry, they're hardly in the film. The rest of the cast is excellent though. It's Kristin Scott Thomas. What do you expect?

The opening half of the film is split between the investigation happening now and a flashback to the life of a young girl, Sarah (Mélusine Mayance), involved in the roundup. When the family is taken from their home, Sarah locks her younger brother in a secret cupboard to keep him safe and promises to come back for him. This section is the strongest part of the film and it takes a dip when the flashback reaches the end of the war. There is far too much of the story of Julia's pregnancy, her relationship with her husband and seemingly endless scenes of tracking people down and questioning them. With such serious subject matter, I found myself feeling quite guilty for being bored. 
Even though there isn't a stunning revelation at the end, Sarah's Key still manages to finish on a satisfying note. I initially thought it was going to be overly sentimental but Aidan Quinn's reaction in a pivotal scene just managed to pull it round for me. I do think that having watched Stephen Poliakoff's work, I have been spoilt. The way that he tells World War Two stories in his dramas is subtle, gripping and unexpected. Sadly, Sarah's Key didn't work quite as well. Definite potential though, that could have been improved by some judicial editing in the latter half.

If you like this you could try:
Shooting the Past, Glorious 39, Perfect Strangers, Joe's Palace, I've Loved You So Long.

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