SARAH'S KEY, 2011
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frédéric Pierrot, Aidan Quinn, Michel Duchaussoy, Dominique Frot
In modern-day Paris, a journalist (Kristen Scott Thomas) finds her life becoming entwined with a young girl whose family was torn apart during the notorious Vel' d'Hiv Roundup in 1942.
We may never know the true depth of the horror the Holocaust visited on humanity. Every time we think we have some grasp on it, another story or lost piece of information comes forward to remind just what was perpetrated and how little we really understand it.
That is the starting point of the adaptation of Tatiana de Rosnay's novel "Sarah's Key" which takes the equal parts horrifying and uplifting stance that the same statement can be made about each individual human being. Even the one's we think we know the best.
The titular key belongs to young Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance), who finds herself caught up in the events of the Vel' d'Hiv Róundup, when the French police rounded up 13,000 Jews and held them in inhuman conditions in the Vélodrome d'Hiver before shipping them off to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
While the key itself belongs to a closet in the Starzynski home where Sarah hid the most precious thing in the world to her before being taken away, what it really is, is a secret. Which is ultimately what Rosnay and the filmmakers adapting her novel take away from the Holocaust, and on a more depressing note human interaction in general – the fact that we can never know or fully comprehend another human being.
The secret of the Starzynski home, and Sarah's life, is being slowly chipped away at by investigative reporter Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) in modern day Paris. Unfortunately Julia is using the specter of Sarah's story to hide from her own secret: though middle-aged with a teenage daughter she has found herself pregnant again and her husband (Frédéric Pierrot) is not thrilled with the idea and she's not sure how to handle the situation.
Like the novel, the narrative of "Sarah's Key" bounces back and forth in time, comparing and contrasting Julia's search for self with Sarah's own. Though the passages between times are long, the interweaving between the two is often quite seamless, thanks in large part to the anchoring performances of Thomas and Mayance. Thomas is as excellent as usual in a part with enough range and depth to truly take advantage of her talents. And yet she is almost over shadowed by the young Mayance who has to venture into the depths and heights of human emotion as she makes her way back to Paris to retrieve what she left behind. It's an award winning, heart breaking performance which has a tendency to claim the film from everyone else.
Particularly as both she and Julia come closer to their goals and yet, paradoxically, further from their aims. The more Julia uncovers about the Starzynski's, and her own connection to them, the more harmful the process of revelation begins to feel, opening up old wounds from years of collaboration and exile as the Holocaust stretches out it's colossal stain to blot out the lives of even those not yet born when it unfolded.
Which is where "Sarah's Key" shows it's true understanding of drama and proves itself worthy of your time. In it's darkest moments, of which there are more than a few, it also reveals the capacity for people, in their eternal ignorance of others, to attempt to reach out and connect to other human beings even when it seems like they shouldn't. More importantly, it shows that as long as the capacity exists, so too does the possibility. That even if there's no telling when that capacity will be used, the chance that it will is reason enough to keep going.
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