By: Oberst von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
In July of 1942 members of the Vichy Government Police begin rounding up families in the Jewish quarters of theParis. When they come to the door of Sarah Starzynski, a Jewish girl living in a small apartment with her parents and younger brother, she makes a split second decision to lock little Michel in a hidden closet to protect him from harm. As Sarah and her parents make their way to a transit-camp, his father begins to panic, believing that his son is incapable of freeing himself, and in a spurt of anger blames Sarah for leaving Michel behind. As she becomes separated from her family, Sarah becomes determined to return and free Michel.
The film also cuts to the present day, where Julia Jarmond (Kristen Scott Thomas) moves into a flat inParisowned by her husband’s family. This turns out to be the same apartment that was vacated by the Starzynskis. Julia becomes obsessed with finding out the truth of what happened to this family, and in the process begins to alienate her own.
I must have attended the movie on “lady’s night out”, because when I entered the cinema I found it nearly filled with middle aged women out with friends. And by the time the credits rolled on Sarah’s Key the room was filled with the sound of catharsis. Now, I have never cried watching a movie, except for that one time.
There can be only one
And while I preferred to drown my sorrows with a cup of Dippin Dots and a pull or two from my flask, many a face in the room that evening was stained by mascara tears. This is perfectly understandable given the personal level in which this film deals with the horrors of the Holocaust. While many devastating holocaust stories have been told, they generally focus on a grander scale. Instead Sarah’s Key focuses on a single event, and its impact on a single person. What makes the film so powerful is its determination to humanize these events. Even the French guards of the prison camp are portrayed with empathy; they seem to be as confused as many of the prisoners. The film dares to ask whether you would have acted differently given the circumstances. Horrible things have been done in history by people who followed orders, and many of those people had to live with the decisions they made. All the more unfortunate is that decisions made to protect others can have horrible consequences.
In some cases, a person’s entire life is a series of bad decisions
The strength of Sarah’s Key is the human factor of the film’s drama. Unfortunately, in the last third of the film, much of that strength feels diminished. Part of this is due to an unnecessary side plot involving Julia’s unplanned pregnancy, and her husband’s insistence on an abortion. Another issue is with the uneven English language dialog scenes. Perhaps it is because the French screenwriters lacked a grasp of the language, but it does feel jarring at times how awkwardly many of the English language sequences play out. Thankfully, the film finds its footing again in a strong concluding scene which ties the story together nicely.
Emotionally charged, and with some great performances, Sarah’s Key is heartbreaking drama at its best.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a drink: for every bad decision
Take a drink: for the consequences thereof
Down a shot: whenever they talk about abortion