AWFJ Women On Film – “Sarah’s Key” – Review by Susan Granger

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When French filmmaker Gilles Paquet-Brenner read Tatiana de Rosney’s best-seller, he was determined to film the Holocaust story, following the connection between a contemporary expat-American journalist in Paris and the Nazi-sympathetic Vichy Regime’s infamous July 16, 1942 Vel d’Hiv round-up and imprisonment of Jews.

Among the Vichy’s detainees is 10 year-old Sarah Starzynski, who intrigues Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott-Thomas), so their stories are interwoven. Jarmond’s connection is via her in-laws, who benefited from the Starzynski family’s deportation by acquiring the Marais apartment that her architect husband (Frederic Pierrot) is currently remodeling.

When the French police barged in, Sarah (Melusine Mayance) tried to save her four year-old brother Michel by impulsively locking him in a secret cupboard just before her family was herded, along with 13,000 others, into Velodrome d’Hiver cycling stadium, where they were trapped for three days without adequate food, water and bathrooms. After that, they were traumatically separated at the Beaune-la-Roland transit camp for eventual deportation and extermination.

Still clutching the key to the closet door and hoping to free her brother, winsome Sarah escapes, winding up on the doorstep of a sympathetic farm couple (Niels Arestrup, Dominique Frot) who take her back to Paris. The screenplay – written by Serge Joncour and Paquet-Brenner – further develops Sarah’s stoic character, taking her into adulthood with a husband (George Birt) and son (Aidan Quinn).

France refused to acknowledge this shameful complicity during the W.W.II German Occupation until, in 1995, then-president Jacques Chirac issued a public apology. And French publishers originally refused Tatiana de Rosnay’s book, but American editor Jennifer Weis brought the work to St. Martin’s publisher Sally Richardson. It eventually sold 2 ½ million copies in 40 countries and stayed on the best-seller list for 2 ½ years.

Paquet-Brenner dramatizes the children’s perspective and plight well, despite his melodramatic impulse to teach a new generation about what happened.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Sarah’s Key” is a sincere yet searing 7, unlocking another guilt-riddled tale appealing to audiences who appreciated “Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist” and “The Reader.”

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.