TIFF ’10: Day 7 ~ Sarah’s Key (Elle s’appelait Sarah)

Finally, my festival KST movie (there always needs to be one, you see). Surprisingly, this film from French Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, Sarah’s Key, was filmed mostly in English. That, I was not expecting. Was this the reason that the script seemed somehow stilted? There is one excruciating later scene of Julia (KST) with her new American husband that is just awful. And though I’ve never been a huge fan of Aidan Quinn, he’s pretty bad in this one. KST valiantly does her best to rise above it. I’ve learned one thing from this festival at least (and this film was but one example): good acting cannot overcome a mediocre script. Even KST delivered a performance less than notable (for her).

The story is a standard one for the French and German post-war: digging into the past to attempt to understand how it all happened, how events could have unfolded as they did. At the center of most of these human tales is the very human concept: Guilt and responsibility, whether collective or individual. And surrounding the moral questions is the frame of history – the imperative for Memory.

The story is a good one, and presents moral dilemmas with the best of them. In July 1942, there was a massive roundup (The Vélodrome d’hiver Round-up: July 16 and 17) of Jews in France. I had only a vague familiarity with these events. But I guess I should not be feeling stupid about this – for the French as well, it’s fading from the collective memory. During the round up, Sarah is separated from her brother and later her parents. Sarah actually had secretly locked her brother into a wardrobe closet to save him from the round up when the (French) Gestapo came knocking. What happens to Sarah, her brother,  and the apartment that was abandoned is the story – and it’s a good one from writer Tatiana de Rosnay.

Julia (Kristin Scott-Thomas) plays a journalist, sixty years on. The only connection between her and the story is the apartment which she and her career-driven husband are refurbishing in the Marais – an upscale arrondissement in Paris, that was a Jewish ghetto before the war. As she investigates (across continents and back) she uncovers the full story.

I just can’t shake the feeling that this would have been a much better film had it been in French. Is that snobbish?

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