"Sarah's Key" looks at Holocaust's lasting impact

LOS ANGELES Fri Jul 22, 2011 3:36pm EDT

Actress Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia Jarmond in a scene from director Gilles Paquet-Brenner's film ''Sarah's Key''. REUTERS/Julien Bonet/The Weinstein Company

Actress Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia Jarmond in a scene from director Gilles Paquet-Brenner's film ''Sarah's Key''.

Credit: Reuters/Julien Bonet/The Weinstein Company

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Seven decades have passed since French police arrested thousands of Parisian Jews and sent them to death camps in an incident known as the Vel' d'Hiv roundup, but for some, the guilt still lingers.

French film "Sarah's Key," which opens in major U.S. cities on Friday after touching audiences in many European countries, looks at the notion of national remorse and its impact not only on the people who lived through it, but their families and offspring who, in many cases, never even knew it happened.

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner is loathe to call "Sarah's Key" a Holocaust movie in the vein of Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List," for instance, because his film is not so much about the event as its impact on a contemporary family. And while Vel' d'Hiv took place during World War II, genocide still happens in modern times in places such as Rwanda.

"Young people can relate to it because history is not represented as this abstract thing you have to learn in books," Paquet-Brenner told Reuters. "They understand that something which seemed so far from them could be right around the corner."

It's a scary thought, but one that "Sarah's Key" puts front-and-center for today's audiences.

The movie is adapted from the French novel "Elle s'appelait Sarah," which had an English-language version that became a New York Times bestseller.

It begins with the July, 1942 roundup at Vel' d'Hiv and focuses on one family, their 10-year-old daughter Sarah and her brother whom she locks in a closet to hide from the French police.

Sarah escapes from the camp where she is sent only to discover the horror of what the French, under Nazi rule, did to their own people and Sarah's family, in particular.

But the tale is not about Sarah. Rather, it follows a modern U.S. journalist named Julia Jarmond (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) who is married to a Frenchman whose family owns the apartment where, years ago, Sarah locked away her brother.

Jarmond is researching the Vel' d'Hiv and comes upon Sarah's story and soon her own life changes due to her feelings over the roundup.

Through the film, audiences feel the French national guilt over the German roundups of Jews in France, but more importantly, they see the impact that roundup still has today on an American woman and the man she meets during her journey -- Sarah's grown son (played by Aidan Quinn).

"There is a sentence in the movie," which Paquet-Brenner says sums up his feelings about Julia's story: "Sometimes we have to forget the statistics, and give a face to that" event. And that is what "Sarah's Key" attempts to do.

So far, critics seem to agree. The movie scores a 76 percent positive rating on movie review website Rottentomatoes.com.

Writing for showbusiness website TheWrap, critic Alonso Duralde calls the film, "a compelling tale about a chapter of history that plenty of people would no doubt prefer we'd forget."

(Editing by Jill Serjeant)

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