Sunday, 31 July 2011

Sarah's Key

Saw this today at Harbour Lights at a members free preview - well done Picture Houses!

This is as sure an Oscar winner as I've ever seen - it is brilliant and my hanky is still soggy from mopping up the tears. The only question that could spoil it is 'does the story spill too much into melodrama' to milk the tears or is it that the subject matter is so sensitive and the way it is acted so compelling that the film is rightfully due every accolade it will receive? I'm going with the latter.

This is by all accounts a fairly accurate adaptation of the novel  Elle s'appelait Sarah by Tatiana de Rosnay which centres on the infamous Vel' d'Hiv roundup of Parisian Jews in August 1942. The infamy stems from the fact that the roundup was at the hands of the French authorities who were forced into demonstrating their allegiance to the Nazis to keep control of their own police force. In the film the dilemma the Gendarmes confront is etched on the faces of most of them. They are (largely) unwilling pawns.

It is all well and good from the safety of today's freedoms and with 20/20 hindsight to pontificate about the moralities that get traded when the exigencies of war force the unwitting to place pragmatism ahead of ethics. I hope no-one is forced into having to make the same decisions that contribute to the horror story that unfolds in this film. I do however hope that many experience the potential for new life and rebuilding of identity that the story offers.

This is not an easy film to watch. I made my lip bleed biting it to stop myself from dissolving into a blubbering heap at one point! It's a story that needs to be told but one should be wary as it comes from the Weinstein stable. However, the story is seemingly told with a degree of evenness but also with unrelenting emotional big hits as the stories of two families who share an unwitting common past are intertwined and then unpicked before they collide again 70 years on.

The script is lively and believable and uses different languages in appropriate ways. One piece of dialogue brilliantly unpacks what drives investigative journalism - or is that simply what drives human curiosity - by asking what price do you put on truth. Another memorable line underlines the fact that we cannot escape our past - we are, however unwittingly, a product of it. The choice of whether or not we choose to acknowledge it is ours.

This film has plenty of style and barn-storming performances from Kristin Scott-Thomas and the young and very able Mélusine Mayance in the title role. I have purposefully avoided disclosing the plot as you will want to see this tear-jerker for yourself. It is excellent viewing, first-class and engaging cinema and a story that deserves to be told. Book your ticket now - it's on general release 5th August. Take plenty of Kleenex - you have been warned!

I'll give it 9/10 - see you at the Oscars.

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