“10,000 people crammed… no bed, no toilets and little water.”
Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) is an American journalist living in Paris covering the anniversary of the 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, a horrific atrocity when occupied France bowed to the will of the Nazis and rounded up over 13,000 Jews to ship them off to concentration camps. As she investigates the story she discovers a dark secret in her French husband’s family directly connecting them to the event. The story is split between Julia’s modern day investigation and 1942 where it follows 10-year-old Sarah Starzynski (Melusine Mayance) as she deals with the horrors of the roundup.
This is a very serious and thoughtful drama dealing with a shameful time in France’s history. The shocking reality is that these weren’t Nazis committing these atrocities, but the French themselves. The movie is based on Tatiana de Rosnay’s international bestselling novel. The acting is solid and the writing strong, but ultimately as much as it tries to be an IMPORTANT MOVIE it doesn’t quite get there.
This is a subject matter that is so solemn and sensitive critics will feel compelled not to criticize the film for fear of appearing insensitive. Well, I’m just not that politically correct. I found Sarah’s backstory engrossing, but Julia’s modern day investigation drags a bit. The period recreations are excellent and the cinematography really stands out in these flashbacks. Comparatively, Julia’s scenes feel cramped and flat.
Sarah’s Key can be moving and deeply effecting. Melusine Mayance’s performance is absolutely riveting as is her narrative, but the modern day scenes suffer from being a bit pretentious and preachy. I couldn’t help feeling Julia was digging up things better left buried and never really believed her obsession with the mystery. In fact the entire modern day segments were narratively disjointed and distracted from the truly powerful Holocaust at its heart.
The 2.40:1 AVC/MPEG-4 1080p transfer is decent if not fully up to HD standards. You’ll get an average 18mbps bit rate. The flashback narrative displays a wonderful color scheme, with sharp images, natural colors and stable blacks. However, the modern scenes fall flat and lack in detail overall. The transfer suffers from compression artifacting in the darker scenes with a bit of aliasing and banding.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix here is technically sound. Dialog is well captured and nicely balanced with SFX and the soundtrack. There is very little immersive surround and not much use of LFE, but the soundtrack is lush and expressive. The majority of the movie is in French with subtitles with a smattering of English scenes.
- The Making of Sarah’s Key (1:03 HD) Very in depth coverage of the origin of the novel as well as the making of the film. Highly informative if a little too self-congratulating.
- Theatrical Trailers
I should imagine Sarah’s Key would resonate more with French people, but it is a solid Holocaust story with effective performances and moving scenes. As soon as Sarah’s story is completed, the movie drags with the modern day narrative. Although never really boring, it is a slow and quiet movie you shouldn’t try watching late at night due to it lulling you to sleep. Even though it deals with hard subjects and the atrocity of war, it ultimately is a chick flick.
“Mike, this was not the Germans, this was the French.”