The first great shock in “Sarah’s Key” comes with the revelation that it was not the Nazis who rounded up Jews into the packed and oppressive Vélodrome d’Hiver arena for transport to Auschwitz, but the French. Other shocks follow. However, it’s that initial one that casts a horrific chill throughout the intergenerational story of Holocaust guilt.
Based on Tatiana de Rosnay’s 2007 novel, “Sarah’s Key” chronicles contemporary French journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) as she unearths the odyssey of a 10- year-old Jewish girl named Sarah (Mélusine Mayance), who in 1942 locks her little brother in a secret closet to hide him from Holocaust horrors. She then escapes from the concentration camp and manages to get back to Paris to free her brother – the scene of the second shock.
Directed by Gilles Paquet Brenner, the film has Sarah’s compelling story brutally inter-cut with Julia’s own soap opera (she’s pregnant, her husband doesn’t want the child). The connection is his parent’s apartment, which happens to be the very one with the infamous closet opened by Sarah’s key.
The generational cross-cutting means to show the suppressed pain felt by the French due to their complicity in the Holocaust. But, Sarah’s struggle overpowers Julia’s personal problems to the point that they become an annoyance.
Sometimes, it’s better to keep things simple… and linear. After all, there’s nothing complex about the cowardly French cop-out at Vélodrome d’Hiver in 1942.