History Comes out of the Closet
"Sarah's Key" opens with a scene of two children joyfully playing beneath the sheets and then all of a sudden there is a knock at the door and two men enter the apartment looking for a man and a boy. It is July 1992 and the children in question are Jewish, fearing bad things young Sarah (MÃ©lusine Mayance) hides her brother in a closet, locking him there and promising to return for him when it is safe. "Sarah's Key" then cuts to 2009 and we meet Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) a reporter who with her husband has moved into a new home which they are planning to remodel. Julia is currently working on a piece about France having helped the Nazi's in the rounding up and shipping of Jews to death camps during WWII. As she researches she finds a connection to her new home and the events surrounding this young girl Sarah and her attempts to return home when she realises that they are being shipped out.
I am conflicted by "Sarah's Key" because there are three things going on with two of them working. The concept of Julia doing a piece on France's involvement in the round up of Jews is a clever lead in to a lesser known aspect of the war. And that works well to feed us this dual story of the Holocaust which half focuses on Sarah's endeavours to rescue her brother but also the horror of what the Jews were put through. All of this works and there is plenty which is hard hitting when it comes to the recreation of the Holocaust with some uncomfortable scenes.
But then there is the third aspect of the movie and that is the connections which Julia makes to Sarah's story. It didn't need it because it makes it too contrived and that lessens the power of the story as do the events in the now which relate to a decision which Julia has to make. Having said that, if you enjoy movies which manage to connect the seemingly impossible then this extra layer will probably work wonders for you.
Now "Sarah's Key" stars the always great Kristin Scott Thomas and it is because of Thomas I have watched some foreign language movies that I would have normally passed on. Her ability to slip in and out of speaking French is a major reason why she is perfect for this movie as she sounds spot on when speaking French but then just as right when the storyline drops in to English. She also delivers a consistent performance, a natural characterisation of an ordinary woman which is what this movie is calling out for. But Thomas is matched by the supporting performances especially from a fantastic young actress called MÃ©lusine Mayance who grabs your attention with such an expressive face.
What this all boils down to is that I was impressed by parts of "Sarah's Key" especially the scenes which focused on the Holocaust. But the events in the present ended up spoiling it for me as not only did they seem to contrived but also a distraction