From time to time I’ll see a movie exclusively because I know nothing about it. So instead of seeing a Harry Potter or Transformers sequel I chose to see the one flick with subtitles playing at the local multiplex, Sarah’s Key. I generally feel a random foreign movie will be better than a big-budget American blockbuster because the overseas production has to go through a series of quality control filters where it won a couple festivals or was created by an acclaimed director to make it to a theater here. One of the added requirements to make it on to a screen in Miami Beach is the foreign movie must have something to do with the Holocaust.
Sarah’s Key, tells a fictional account about a little known true Holocaust related story, known as the Vel’ d”Hiv roundup. In 1942 the French police rounded up 13,000 Jews and sent them off to Auschwitz to be killed by Nazis.
The Sarah of this movie is a young girl, maybe 10, who finds herself trapped in this mess. She locks her brother in her house’s hidden closet as her family is detained. She must then find a way to escape the camp, get back to Paris and unlock her brother from his hiding spot. The actress who plays Sarah is as subtle and believable about her desperate, dire situation as Adrien Brody was in his similar part in The Pianist. The part of the movie that deals with Sarah’s plight is intense and heartbreaking, but unfortunately Sarah’s Key does not only revolve around Sarah.
The movie is framed around a modern day yuppie American reporter living in Paris with her French family. This reporter played by Kristen Scott Thomas is writing an article about the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup which leads her toward investigating Sarah’s fate. The movie then decides to spend ample time dealing with Sarah’s whiny marital problems and then drags as it pushes her around the globe to learn about Sarah’s life after the war. Post-war Sarah though is unlikable and selfish. The part of her life that was interesting, unique, and uplifting is when she’s a young girl doing whatever she can to save her brother. If this world could have been fleshed out for the entire length of the feature this would be a movie I could fully endorse.
My immediate reaction is that half of a great movie coupled with half of a boring, sentimental schmaltzfest is still better than a whole Michael Bay Transformers movie.
But there is something troubling with a movie like Sarah’s Key. Whereas with Transformers the audience is fully aware that the adventures of these robot/vehicles are fully fictional, because of the historical setting one might think Sarah’s Key is a true story. The movie does all it can to make viewers believe the events it depicts happened in real life.. They did not and I’m not sure if that makes the movie exploitational and at the same time belittles people who actually did die in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. Since if a little girl could escape their captors, why couldn’t they?