Sarah's Key - Blu-ray Review

'Julia, whilst important, is really only a vessel through which the audience can discover the significant story of Sarah. When the director accepts this, the film moves at pace and the story unfolds in significant waves'

Despite the quite cutesy, almost chick-lit esque, marketing of Sarah's Key, do not be fooled into thinking that this is a film ostensibly about The Holocaust, with the rough edges taken off. At times, Sarah's Key is as harrowing and devastating as any film on the topic and, whilst its production values can mirror its deceptively light marketing, often this is serious of topic and tone.

The setup though, and some of the over-arching plotting, is pure chick-lit narrative construction, created to guarantee the film a relateable presence in the here and now (Kristin Scott Thomas' Julia) whilst exploring the past (personified by Mélusine Mayance as Sarah). In this guise the construction works through Sarah the journalist writing an article about the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup of 1942, which, the film reveals, is actually something intimately related to her husband's family. As Julia discovers more she becomes obsessed with the story of Sarah and her decisions on that day and thereafter.

For the most part, the above construction works but there are several significant times during the story when director Gilles Paquet-Brenner appears to lose focus. Julia, for instance, whilst important, is really only a vessel through which the audience can discover the significant story of Sarah. When Paquet-Brenner accepts this, the film moves at pace and the story unfolds in significant waves of important historical narrative. When he doesn't though, and Julia is allowed increased focus, Sarah's Key starts to both drag and to feel vaguely manipulative. There's a cloying story about Sarah's relationship with her husband (Frédéric Pierrot), which would probably have been bad enough, though just to make sure, Paquet-Brenner does take us down an all to predictable path.

Other bits of the film don't work quite well enough to declare this truly polished. Whilst Scott Thomas is predictably excellent, her fellow English actors, playing other members of staff at the magazine she works for, come across as very daytime TV drama and distract whenever they're on screen. Not content with over-complicating the two narratives, Paquet-Brenner also decides to go for a very long final act, keeping us there and developing new elements even after the key-based mystery has been revealed. There's worth in the story told from this point but narratively it is ill-organised.

If you can look past the minor foibles such as this and the production values though, there is an occasionally well-told tale that seeks to confront some of France's worst history. At one point a Holocaust historian character notes that his depressing work is 'necessary and probably also cathartic'. You suspect that character is Paquet-Brenner speaking about his own material, and certainly there's a level of accuracy in that, you just wish the work in question could have had a little more time and attention applied to it.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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