Directed By: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Written By: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Cinematography By: Pascal Ridao
Sarah’s Key, the adaption of Tatiana de Rosnay’s best-selling novel, is a film of both gripping emotion and stagnant boredom. Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s film tells the story of the round up of 13,000 Parisian Jews by French police in 1942. When police come to the Starzinki family apartment in the Marais district, the bold 10 year old Sarah seeks to protect the life of her younger brother by locking him in the cupboard and telling him to remain there until she returns. Sarah is then deported along with her mother and father to camps in the countryside before she is separated from her parents who are presumably sent to Nazi death camps. Sarah manages to to escape from her prison camp in a desperate attempt to return to her apartment and be reunited with her brother.
However this is only half of the film’s narrative. As the moments of tension heighten as the film follows Sarah’s heart breaking story, the scene cuts to modern day Paris 60 years on where an American journalist, Julia (Kristen Scott Thomas) begins to uncover the disturbing history behind the Marais district apartment her husband’s family acquired six decades ago. Julia begins to investigate the history of her families apartment and slowly uncovers Sarah’s story. As Sarah’s dramatic attempt to return to her brother unravels in a tempest of emotion and intensity, Julia’s quest to uncover the truth of the past drags on in what feels like a completely separate film.
I initially liked the idea of a dual narrative film. This unique approach distinguished Sarah’s Key from the countless other Nazi era films that have emerged over the years. It raises the questions of one’s past and whether we are indeed products of our past. However, whilst the French spoken sequences of Sarah’s life are vivid and intensely emotive, the modern day sequences performed in English fail to convey the same emotion or excitement. One finds them-self enduring the dull of modern day Paris narrative in anticipation to return to the excitement. The story doesn’t end as quickly as I was expecting, but rather unravels allowing for all the loose ends to be tied up. Too often in the blockbusters does the film end with various loose ends left about. Whilst this made Sarah’s Key feel slightly long at times, it also created a sense of satisfaction and resolution for the viewer.
The performances are varied which is expected in light of the overall film. 10 year old Sarah is played by a terrific Mélusine Mayance who characterizes the brave and defiant young hero with such charm and delight. As the heroin she carries the role of the incredibly mature and responsible young child, whilst not losing the distinct notion of childhood innocence and naivety, which gives her character a sense of believability. Kristen Scott Thomas does the best job in the contemporary sequences, although she is let down by those around her – especially her work colleagues who appear stifled and obviously scripted.
The cinematography is also split along the lines of the film. Cinematography is one of those things that one doesn’t necessarily take note of unless it’s amazing. Rarely is it ever terrible, unless it’s been stylized in a certain manner for effect, which may be unpopular with viewers. The handheld feel of the 1942 sequences created an authentic and lively feel full of emotion and action. My favourite scene is of Sarah and her fellow camp inmate running through the fields moments after their escape. However the 21st century scenes felt static and added nothing to the emotion, leaving half the film dull and dry.
Despite half the film feeling painstakingly slow and uninteresting, the emotive story and compelling performances of the historic period carry the audience right to the end. Sarah’s Key is an intense film that captures the audience’s emotions and leaves one feeling shaken and moved.
Performance & Characters 7/10
Quality Rating: 7/10
Entertainment Rating 7/10