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Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key

83% Liked It
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Sarah's Key

Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frederic Pierrot, Michel Duchaussoy

Julia Jarmond, an American journalist married to a Frenchman, is commissioned to write an article about the notorious Vel d'Hiv round up, which took place in Paris, in 1942. She stumbles upon a family... read more read more... secret which will link her forever to the destiny of a young Jewish girl, Sarah. Julia learns that the apartment she and her husband Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand's family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers - especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive - the more she uncovers about Bertrand's family, about France and, finally, herself. -- (C) Official Site

Id: 11166275

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Recent Reviews


  • October 17, 2013
    An American journalist in Paris embarks on a story about the Holocaust and discovers connections between the past, her present marriage and her unborn child. Beginning as an article on the 1942 roundup of Jews in France as they were sent off to Auschwitz, it soon becomes a journe... read morey of self-discovery as the protagonist stumbles upon a terrible secret of a family forced out of their home and a young girl called Sarah who makes an impulsive decision to leave her younger brother locked in a cupboard. A film about the Holocaust is certain to be moving, but the circumstances in this one are harrowing, the truth astonishing, and the coincidences as unbelievable as the tragedy itself. It is a journalist's quest to dig up the lives of others and unleash the truth, but this film show the price of these actions. Sarah's Key takes us from Paris to Brooklyn to Florence and ultimately to the centre of the heart - showing that even the truth has its cost. And the sadness, as much as we try to unlock it, can never be erased. 5 stars 10-17-13
  • April 1, 2013
    Great. Thought provoking. Well done. Perfect mix of the heart wrenching events of lives torn apart, the endless search of who we are, and the depths of depravity that mankind is capable of. Just when I think that I have seen every Holocaust movie around, another pops up. I can ne... read morever learn enough about this era that tested our humanity...
  • March 4, 2013
    Really good, sad movie. The little girl who plays Sarah is excellent.
  • November 16, 2011
    A fictional story built around historical facts and events, Sarah's Key is an incredibly well-made film which draws us in and never lets go. Even after it's over, the images and emotions linger in my mind. I've been thinking about it for days. Beautiful cinematography, amazing... read more acting from the young actors, and a powerful emotional punch make Sarah's Key unmissable. Read the book first, but do not dare miss this film.
  • September 6, 2011
    It's well-nigh impossible to make a film about the Holocaust without either lecturing the audience or slipping into inappropriate sentimentality. The best examples of this genre (if such a term is appropriate) are character-driven pieces like The Pianist and Life is Beautiful. Th... read moreese films focus on the utterly human reactions of individuals caught up in Europe's darkest hour, and steadfastly refuse to sugar-coat the brutality for the sake of holding an audience.

    Sarah's Key is an engrossing and compelling addition to the Holocaust film canon, which showcases both the qualities and the pitfalls of the genre. For the majority of its running time, it is an enticing and often moving drama which finds characters in the present day interacting meaningfully with their collective past. But all its hard work doesn't entirely pay off, thanks to a melodramatic final act which tarnishes the result.

    To give credit where it's due, Sarah's Key succeeds in the most important area, namely in its rendering or recreation of the Holocaust. The film explores an aspect of the Final Solution which has not been previously addressed on film, and it approaches the subject with courage and determination. The scenes at the Velodrome d'Hiver, where thousands of French Jews were rounded up and housed without food or sanitation, are suitably unpleasant and very tough to watch, particularly the shots of human excrement or a woman falling from the ceiling.

    Gilles Paquet-Brenner's camerawork is well-judged in these scenes and is surprisingly accomplished for a first-time director. During the scenes in the Vel d'Hiv, he uses long aerial shots to show the isolation of Sarah's family before they are sent to the camps, showing the squallor and hideous conditions without hammering the point home. In the camps his hand-held work is more frenetic: when the mothers are separated from their children, his camera darts all over the place to capture the sense of panic on both sides. This approach makes us feel as confused as the characters would be, and these scenes lack some of the staged quality that hampered Schindler's List.

    The film also benefits from a fantastic performance by the young actress playing Sarah. Melusine Mayance is a bewitching screen presence, and she conveys the innocence of the character without looking like she has been directed to do so. Like her counterpart Saoirse Ronan, she has wisdom beyond her years but is not an adult in a child's body, forced to act like a child. If she continues to deliver on the strength of this performance, she will be breaking audience's hearts for decades to come.

    Among its war film counterparts, Sarah's Key is on one level closest to The Pianist. Apart from Kristin Scott Thomas' links to Roman Polanski (they worked together on Bitter Moon), both films are primarily about survival. Both Sarah Starzynski and Wladyslaw Szpilman are not heroic in the traditional or conventional sense. They endure the Holocaust by neither fighting the authorities head-on nor rolling over and praying for death to come. In the truck on the way to the camp, an old man shows Sarah a ring full of poison, and says: "No-one can choose when I die."

    The film shows Sarah's transition from innocence to adulthood and a new life in America, via the heartbreaking discovery of her brother's death. Having hidden her baby brother in a secret room when the French police arrive, Sarah is sustained by the hope and belief that he is still alive. This hope drives her every action, from asking the brunette lady with forged papers to let him out to tunnelling under the wire to get out of the camp. The death of her brother haunts Sarah, preventing her from ever feeling happy or free from her past. When she moves to America, her future husband calls her the most beautiful and saddest woman he could imagine, and eventually her grief cancels out whatever hope she had left.

    Both of the protagonists in Sarah's Key - Sarah and the journalist investigating her - experience large amounts of guilt over what happened. While Sarah's guilt is intensely personal (a literal skeleton in the closet), Julia's is part of a national or continental guilt that such awful events were allowed to happen. One man she meets works hard to put names to all the photographs of the Vel d'Hiv victims, commenting that it is painful but the right thing to do. Because this guilt is conveyed through naturalistic conversation, with the camera as observer rather than interrogator, we don't feel like we are being constantly made to hang our collective heads in shame.

    One particular aspect of the events at Vel d'Hiv reinforces the film's message of those closest to the horror turning a blind eye, or even encouraging what was going on. When the Jews are rounded up in 1942, we see a number of native French observers cheering and jeering from the rooftops. The Jews are depicted as inferior not just to the Aryan race, but to native Frenchmen, with even those who have lived in France for decades being degraded and derided. It's a fitting means to distinguish between race and nationality, concepts which became ideologically fused under Nazism.

    Both the success and the failure of Sarah's Key are contained in the narrative's framing device - that is, the cutting back and forth between Sarah and Julia's stories. On the one hand, such an approach makes perfect sense when looking at something as harrowing as the Holocaust. Kristin Scott Thomas represents the audience as present-day observers, historically removed from the events by both her age and her family background. The film admirably admits that, even with the sheer amount of information available, we cannot come close to recreating the Holocaust on screen. Unless we experienced it personally (as Polanski did), we have to view things from a distance, pursuing the truth without ever feeling the need to judge.

    On the other hand, the constant switching between the stories does start to become jarring as Julia's situation changes. Sarah's story is consistently more engaging and involving than the events in the present day, and while it never feels like we are watching two different films, we find ourselves longing for Julia's sections of the story to be hurried along. Some of the editing choices are borderline crass - for instance, Julia appears on the site of Vel d'Hiv just after Sarah is taken away.

    The other problem with Sarah's Key is its increasing reliance on melodrama which comprises the integrity of both sides of the story. Some of the first traits are seen in Sarah's section, where one of the French camp guards not only spares her life but helps her escape. The film is trying to be as nuanced as Paul Verhoeven's Black Book, showing that not all French collaborators were Nazi puppets. But the scene still feels contrived to the point of being totally facile.

    This becomes a greater problem in the present-day sections. After it emerges that Sarah is no longer alive, the loose ends flail and fray as the film searches for some kind of cathartic ending. Arguably having her still alive, to be discovered by Julia in the final scene, would have been more predictable and less rewarding. But the ending as it is feels inconclusive in a non-rewarding way, and the coda with the voice-over feels tacked-on.

    Sarah's Key is a flawed but admirable attempt to explore a difficult subject matter from an original angle. Kristin Scott Thomas turns in another fine performances, with a flawless American accent and unique subtlety in her facial expressions. The film is ultimately compromised by its later sections, which do undermine or cheapen a lot of what has gone before. But it is still a solid debut effort which suggests future promise for both its young performers and its director.
  • August 21, 2011
    If you're like me, you've grown weary of Holocaust movies in the last few years. When filmmakers run out of ideas nowadays, they make yet another Holocaust movie. They know they can provide an orgy of grief for the viewer without even putting in much effort. Cheap, easy torture-p... read moreorn.


    We've become so familiar with these predictable movies that I bet most of us could direct one in our sleep -- and cry through one in our sleep. I especially resent the use of children in assembly-line Holocaust films. That is emotional manipulation of the most ghoulish kind.


    Given the importance of this subject matter, I think its cheapening as a movie theme is disturbing. Thus I almost walked out of "Sarah's Key" after 15 minutes. I had actually not known the film was about the Holocaust and certainly didn't know it focused on children. But I'm very happy that I didn't leave because "Sarah's Key" is no assembly-line movie. It's about more than the Holocaust, too. It's really about us today. All of us, but particularly the French, as they come out of denial about the number of French citizens who actively aided the German program of Jewish extermination.


    ***************************


    Kristin Scott Thomas, continuing her remarkable transformation into a French-speaking actress, plays an American journalist living in Paris with her French husband. They are moving into the apartment where he and his parents grew up. While tracing the history of the apartment, she stumbles on some disturbing information. When the family moved into the apartment in 1942, it was vacant. But who were the previous tenants, and what happened to them?


    The story is told on two tracks with cross-cutting between them. On one track is the present-day woman trying to uncover a lost history. On the other is the Jewish family who got evicted from the apartment in 1942. Gradually, more and more information about the family's plight is revealed, with special focus on Sarah, one of two children in the family. I won't reveal the details about the eponymous key, but I can say that it may break your heart like nothing ever has. - unfinished
  • July 19, 2012
    In 1942, Paris a young girl named Sarah and her parents are arrested, and sent off to concentration camps, where they will struggle through disturbing events, and hatred. But Sarah has locked her brother in a cupboard at home, in the reason that she wants him to be safe, but what... read more she does not realize is that she won't be coming back. She has locked that cupboard, promising him that she'll come back soon. Many years after, a journalist named Julia is to write a story on the deported Jews in 1942. Soon, she discovers that her father-in-law's apartment which she recently moved in, once belonged to Sarah and her family. Her mission is now to uncover her tragic story, and find her in the process.

    Sarah's Key is a faithful adaptation of the novel, in which follows the same title and is written by Tatiana de Rosnay. This means, that there are both benefits and disadvantages to the film. The benefits are that reader's of the story should be satisfied by the movie because it is practically the same, except at a faster pace. The disadvantages are that because the book moves back and forth between two different stories, there is not enough emotion. First there comes a part of Sarah's fatal story, and then after that there comes a part of Julia's story, which tends to kill the mood after a just a few scenes. It's not that it's a bad plot order, because the book is able to handle it quite professionally. But the movie does not, and this is because of its short time-length. Perhap's the big question here is, "Was Sarah's Key better left off as a book, rather than a movie?" Most wisely, the answer is yes. So, if your interested in this film, you should read the novel first in reason that it is far greater.
  • August 8, 2011
    In "Sarah's Key," Julia(Kristin Scott Thomas) is an American journalist living in Paris with her husband Bertrand(Frederic Pierrot) in 2009. She is assigned by a magazine to write a feature article on the deportation of Jews during the Nazi occupation by French authorities that ... read morebegan with their being rounded up and sent to the Vel D'Hiv Velodrome before being transported to Auschwitz. As Julia and Bertrand are preparing to move into his family's apartment, they are unaware that it once belonged to one of those families, the Starzynskis. When the authorities come for them in July 1942, their daughter Sarah(Melusine Mayance) hides her brother Michel(Paul Mercier) in a closet.

    With some excellent moments, "Sarah's Key" dramatizes a little known specific historical incident in compelling fashion that was covered previously in general in "The Sorrow and the Pity." At first, I thought Julia and Bertrand moving into the apartment was a huge contrivance but then I realized it was not an isolated incident which works well into the themes of "Sarah's Key" in how easy it is to pave over history, especially when it concerns something unpleasant. But telling the story from an American's viewpoint detracts from the movie's power since it makes it all that easier to judge. And I know compared to Sarah's story, Julia's(which causes the movie to go on a little too long) might not seem all that important(especially the domestic details); it still serves a valuable purpose in delaying the revelation of Sarah and Michel's fates, thus making the movie more suspenseful than it otherwise would have been. So, it is especially poignant that everything that happens can be traced back to a single decision.
  • April 21, 2012
    Sarah's Key manages to rise above the sort of misery-porn and cheap drama that Holocaust films can sometimes fall back on. Instead, it's powerfully compelling, emotionally authentic, and thought provoking. The drama is executed excellently, with great performances throughout, esp... read moreecially from the reliable Kristin Scott Thomas. Some of the sub-plots could perhaps have been cut, but the narrative revolving around Sarah was very strong and moving, making Sarah's Key engrossing, poignant, and memorable.

    4/5 Stars
  • January 16, 2012
    Wow, if the French are going the extra mile to try and get rid of Jews, then you know they weren't all that popular anywhere in the world. Seriously though, I really was intrigued by this film, learning that the Jews weren't all that popular anywhere, and by the end, I found myse... read morelf asking plenty of questions, like how long it took before Mel Gibson figured out that "We Were Soldiers" was Vietnam and not WWII. "Really, we're going with a joke that obvious?", said the only two people that read my reviews. Listen Mom and Dad, it's hard enough for me to come up with a joke about a film this serious, let alone when it's about Jews and I'm trying to emphasize to the world that Alabama is alright now. Come to think of it, this film might be riddled with hilarious material, only I don't know what in the world these French people are saying... I said about a film with subtitles. No, I read the subtitles, because, once again, us Alabamians are alright, and I've got to say that I think my material is even more diluted, because no matter which language they're speaking, this isn't quite as fun of a Nazi films as "Inglourious... Wow, come to think of it, not even Quienten Tarantino could make a dialogue-driven film about Nazis without it getting a little bit boring after a while, so one can only imagine how boring this film is, and boy, let me to tell you just how boring... Kristin Scott Thomas is.

    Okay, in all fairness, most every bit of the film is slow. It's not tedious, but it definately hits its dull spots, but Kristin Thomas's plotline is easily the slower of the two. Well, to be fair, what might be the most likely reason why you're consistently attached to Sarah Starzynski's storyline is because you have to read subtitles to figure out just what in the world is going on. Granted, Julia Jarmond's storyline has a lot of foreign language dialogue, though certainly not as much as Starzynski's, and her storyline is also certainly helped by its being easily more compelling and fascinating, whereas Kristin Thomas's storyline lacks intrigue and tension in its motivations, partially because the Julia Jarmond character lacks development, leaving you to constantly go in and out of the scenario, because it's so unengaging. Okay, now, as much as I emphasize the problems in the Julia Jarmond storyline, most of the same complaints can be said about the Sarah storyline (I'm sick of spelling her last name), and while that storyline isn't quite as problematic and is easily more resonant, it still slows down a lot; but hey, for all you know, that's just bleed-over of the slowness from Jarmond's storyline, because we cut between the storylines much too often, and while the transitions are stylish enough to be somewhat palpable, by the time we get use to the sudden environment change, we dirve right back into the other side of the spectrum. The film is frantic in its storytelling, yet limps along through which ever story it is, in fact, telling, yet even without that, it still lacks that truly unique punch for it to stick with you. However, there's no denying that this is a respectable film, for although over 90% of the film is problematic, it's still a form of art, and has enough of that artistry to back it up.

    Allow me to start off by saying that Max Richter's score is very good, yet underused, so if you want more consistent artistry, then take in the cinematography, because, if there's anything that you say about the film, it's good-looking. There's nothing terribly grand about the cinematography, but it has a kind of weight to it that makes the film look handsome and feel tense, yet the scope feels more isolated, giving us a more intimate experience with these characters. The film's much too slow for the intimacy to really hit, but it still keeps this machine pumping. It certainly brings the tension, as well as the flair of the 1940s to life in a very human fashion that doesn't drift too far from the tone in modern day, giving the struggles of 1940s France an aura of relevance, and considering what was going on back that, you've got to be able to sell that aura of consequence that modern audience's can attach themselves to. That's one of the biggest reasons why Sarah Starzynki's storyline is so much more engaging than Julia Jarmond's, no matter how much Kristin Scott Thomas still looks kind of pretty. Another major factor in Starzynki's storyline's being so compelling is its lead, young Mélusine Mayance, who is further evidence that the only two things that kids are good for now-a-days are possibly growing into respectable adults (Yeah, not very likely) and acting. Mayance gives a haunting performance, emiting an aura of guilt and tension in the Sarah Starzynki character, yet still having that tone of ignorance and confusion in children, making her feel authentic as a child placed in this situation, and watching these horrors mature Starzynki in all the wrong ways - and Mayance pull that off - is an experience, in it of itself, which isn't to say that director Gilles Paquet-Brenner doesn't deliver on some degree of emotion that may not be entirely consistent, but has its share of high points to keep the film going from beginning, to a rather impacting ending.

    In the end, the film lacks a unique, impacting punch, leaving it plagued by a lack of intrigue - exacerabted by consistent slowness and jarring dual storytelling -, leaving it all but forgettable, were it not for the handsome, yet subtley gritty cinematography to compliment a tense, consequential aura that really sells the harshness of the more compelling 1940s storyline, almost as much as young Mélusine Mayance's particularly upstanding, very graceful performance that helps make "Sarah's Key" a generally fascinating study on some of the more obscure scenarios of such a harsh time.

    2.5/5 - Fair

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