Sometimes our own stories are the hardest to tell. But if untold, they may forever be forgotten.
An independent film based on the best selling novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, “Sarah’s Key” is a story not told, but uncovered. The film follows Julia Jarmond, an American journalist, wife and mother who holds a certain passion for the past and an unyielding determination to honor and progress the possibilities of her future. In the film, Julia (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) finds herself connected between a past and a future both uncertain as she deals with conflict between her husband, Bertrand Tezac, played by Frederic Pierrot, and prepares to move her family into the childhood home of what becomes Julia’s most influential subject.
Upon moving, Julia learns of a previous resident of the house named Sarah, a 10-year-old Jewish girl. Julia conducts further research on Sarah, hoping to find information related to her latest project, as she is writing an article involving the capture of French Jews during the Holocaust.
During her investigation, Julia follows twists and turns that challenge and influence major decisions that she needs to make in her own life. As she uncovers the story of Sarah’s past, this story creates a new path for Julie’s future.
As a film that falls into the history or war genre, “Sarah’s Key” stands out from popular features in its genre such as “The King’s Speech” or “Schindler’s List.” This is because the historical tale, Sarah’s story, is revealed to the main character and to the audience after the events have occurred. This creates more of a narrative about how history effects our present, rather than a routine historical narrative that romanticizes a historical event for shock value or emotional game.
Serge Joncour and Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the film’s writers, do an excellent job of uncovering Sarah’s story as Julia learns details from her interviews with people rumored to have known Sarah or her family. Moreover, the narratives of Sarah and Julia are interwoven, which cuts any arid scenes that would have been needed to show Julia’s research. During the time that we imagine Julia researching, the audience follows Sarah, played by Melusine Mayance, in 1942 as she struggles to keep a promise she made to her younger brother before the two of them were separated, and Sarah is thrown into an internment camp.
Mayance as young Sarah gave a tear-jerking, sharp performance, while Thomas portrayed Julia’s character with heart. Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner made some notable choices for scenes that were more painful or disturbing. The internment camp scenes were brief but effective, and not maudlin. There was enough emotion conveyed through a tearless leer before separation to spark an emotional response without harping on tragedy. This effective way of storytelling conveyed the appropriate mood, while keeping with the theme of living with the past and moving forward
The Weinstein Company released “Sarah’s Key” in five theaters for its first weekend, taking in a $23,409 average.
I would recommend this movie to anyone who has an interest in family history, or a love for uncovering hidden stories that would have been forgotten if not passed to the next generation. For a historical film about such a tragic topic, the story imagined by novelist Tatiana de Rosnay is not as bleak as your typical Holocaust film — though you might shed a tear.