Sarah’s Key

21 Aug

Title: Sarah’s Key
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Writers: Serge Joncour and Gilles Paquet-Brenner, based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay
Starring: 
Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frédéric Pierrot
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, thematic material including disturbing situations involving the Holocaust
Runtime: 
111 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 
73%

 

Kristin Scott Thomas is one of the very best actresses living today, it’s really as simple as that, the woman can act just insanely well and is right up there with the Streep’s and Blanchett’s and Winslet’s in my book. And even though she’s still very good in Sarah’s Key, I really didn’t fall in love all that much with the movie. I mean, it’s definitely a very decent flick, but I wanted something better for Ms. Scott Thomas to shine in. This is the adaptation of a novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, adapted by director Gilles Paquet-Brenner and co-writer Serge Joncour, and the script does a fine job of expanding the vision proposed in the novel, of dramatizing the events told there, but it doesn’t get to achieve a good balance between the two stories it tells.

One of those two stories, that are interconnected with one another, is of Ms. Scott Thomas’ character, Julia, a determined journalist who sent on a mission to dig up truths, even if what she starts uncovering begins to have harrowing effects on both her family life and herself. The other story is that of what Julia, has to investigate about, and it has to do with a Holocaust story, told through the eyes of a child that offers more than one moment for Mr. Paquet-Brenner to try and manipulate some tears out of our eyes. I didn’t think, however, that the balance between the two stories was handled correctly, I mean, as stand-alone pieces they were both quite good, but put together I just thought that it was an uncomfortable fit, and I think that the present-day story sort of diminished the impact that the more tragic story about the Holocaust could have had had it been left alone.

You see, the story has to do with Julia having to investigate the Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup of 1942, an event during which the French government aided the Nazis to arrest and deport thousands of Jews from the country. Julia starts becoming obsessed with the story she’s pursuing, the focus of which is tracking down a girl named Sarah, who protected her younger brother from that roundup by locking him inside a closet, even though the more she starts pursuing the subject the more her husband’s family starts pressuring her to stop doing so, as she’s starting to uncover some truths about them they’d rather she didn’t. This is all played alongside scenes of Sarah in her own timeline, trying to escape the Germans to go back to Paris and free her brother, the key the title refers to obviously being the one she needs to unlock the closet in which she got her brother into, and which stays with her through a series of harrowing events.

But really, this is all about Sarah’s story, because it’s by far the more interesting one to watch unravel, and the series of events she goes through to stay alive and to get to her brother are all pretty extraordinary to witness, and they are all played by Mr. Paquet-Brenner for melodramatic purposes, some of which work and some of which actually don’t. For instance, the parts of the story about the Vélodrome d’Hiver feel appropriately horrifying and are really well told, but once you turn the page you are expected to feel the same way about Julia being pregnant and her husband wanting her to terminate the unplanned pregnancy, and I mean, those fights are great because Ms. Scott Thomas is there to act it all out splendidly, but once you put it into comparison with Sarah’s story, as you’ll inevitably do, then you don’t get why it’s all there, just a distraction from a much bigger issue. You feel like it’s all done for some sort of cheap narrative momentum that will get Julia thinking about her baby just as she is learning about Sarah and all that she went through, and the film just didn’t work at all for me on those moments.

In the end, though, I just didn’t love Sarah’s Key all that much. I will recommend it because Ms. Scott Thomas was superb as she always effortlessly seems to be, speaking French as though it was her first language and doing her best at tackling a true grown-up drama, and you know she’s doing her best here, she’s being her usual excellent self as she tries to give Julia’s story the emotional weight required for it to be able to carry the whole movie. However, in the end, this is all about Sarah’s story, and no matter how gut-wrenching and absorbing the Holocaust scenes may be, they are let down by the balance they achieve with the present-day ones, no matter how impeccable Ms. Scott Thomas may be. Because they were just very conventionally written and directed that they feel horribly flat when compared to the other part of the film, and those scenes take away from the effectiveness of the whole piece, the artificial feel of the present-day scenes taking away from the impact achieved by the historical ones.

Grade: B

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: