Sunday 26 February 2017

Film Review: Sarah's Key **

(Club, IFI)

Paul Whitington

On July 16 and 17 of 1942, the Vichy government and the Prefecture de Paris enthusiastically complied with a Nazi request to round up the bulk of the French capital's Jewish population. More than 13,000 Parisian Jews were herded into makeshift camps before being shifted east to the concentration camps where most of them would die. This uncomfortable truth forms the backdrop to Sarah's Key, a melodrama set both in the present and the past and based on a novel by Tatiana de Rosnay.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays an American journalist called Julia Jarmond who's about to move into a Paris apartment that's been in her husband's family for years when she discovers that it was lived in till the summer of 1942 by a Jewish family. When she digs further, she uncovers the heartbreaking story of the Starzynskis, victims of the notorious 'Rafle', or round-up. When the gendarmes came to hound the family from their home, the Starzynskis' nine-year-old daughter Sarah locked her younger brother in a closet and promised she'd come back for him. This innocent decision will haunt young Sarah for the rest of her life, and leave a trail of sorrow for Julia to follow.

While a film could hardly boast a more promising pretext, Sarah's Key is an undisciplined mess, badly plotted and appallingly written, full of clunky expositions that clumsily squander the rich dramatic potential of its storyline. It doesn't even know where to end, and eventually descends into TV miniseries banality.

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