Sarah’s Key is a foreign movie starring Kristen Scott Thomas, who I always think of as the snooty wife in Gosford Park, which is like the board game Clue come to life so perfectly if you’ve never seen it.
This movie gets a shining review of love from me, so if you’d like to avoid the spoilers, go watch it on Netflix now instead. I will warn you though that I cried through about half of the movie.
Now to the SPOILING.
Sarah’s Key has two parallel stories; one is an exploration through a fictional family of the French government and people’s voluntary rounding up and condemning of its own Jewish citizens. They themselves treated their own Jewish citizens horrifically, rounding them up from their homes, keeping them in a stadium in terrible conditions for days, and then sending them to temporary labor camps in France, and then to the German death camps, all in the name of trying to avoid an attack from Germany.
The second story line is in the present day, following Thomas who is an American who lives in France with her French husband, and a journalist working on a piece about the French acts I just outlined, something she has long been interested in. She and her husband are renovating an apartment that has been in his family for 60 years, and she discovers it used to belong to our Jewish family above. Her story is, for the most part, discovering their story and her husband’s family’s rather innocent acquisition of the apartment.
When the police come to take our Jewish family, their daughter Sarah acts impulsively to try to protect her little brother, (not knowing her father will walk in in the middle of their arrests and thus will not be able to set him free,) and locks him in a secret closet with water and tells him to wait. She alone then holds the key.
They can get no one to go set him free or tell, and Sarah is ravaged by the need to free him. They separate the women and children when shipping them to Germany. Sarah is held up by fever and sickness, but in the children’s time alone in the French camp, Sarah and a friend with the help of a guilty guard escape to save her brother.
A kindly farmer and his wife take them in, but her friend dies. They protect and adopt Sarah and take her to Paris, assuring her that he must have escaped. At this point, all I could think is that is has been weeks, and that there’s no way he got out of this walled closet, and that she is on a terrible mission.
When she arrives, Thomas’ husband’s grandfather now lives in the apartment, and she bursts in, running to unlock the closet, and finding her dead brother. While they do not show him, it is still one of the most truly heartbreaking moments of a movie of heartbreaks, and I frankly dare you not to cry.
Thomas refuses to live in this apartment, and in a bizarre and odd twist ends up divorcing her husband because she gets pregnant and he doesn’t want it while she does. But despite these life happenings, she tracks down the rest of Sarah’s life, finding out that she lived with the farming family for years before going to America as an adult where she married and had a son. She then committed suicide by swerving into a semi-truck. Again, I saw this coming as all I could think after she found her brother was, I might kill myself.
The movie is depressing, but at the same time, deeply satisfying. You learn some really valuable history in the process, and the journalistic process is always one I enjoy watching (but never doing..) Thomas is great as always and speaks French like a pro. There are a lot of subtitled moments, (those who should speak French in a given situation do,) but I enjoy subtitled movies. The little girl who plays Sarah is just great, especially at looking spectacularly upset over her dying brother. The adult Sarah is a stunningly beautifully actress I thought I’d seen elsewhere, but IMDB claims not.
This movie had the past and present story lines presented in a very normal way, but it really wasn’t a boring story at all, despite the predictabilities. I doubt I will watch it again since it is so upsetting, but it was definitely worth the one viewing.
One of my friends had bought the movie Precious, and found it so deeply upsetting, while good, that she couldn’t bear to keep it, so it became a movie passed from person to person who wanted to see it, but after viewing it, no one could bear to own it because they could never watch such pain again. It became a running joke with us that it is the movie that only needed to be purchased once because after that it will make its way around the world. Eventually it circled out of our group, never to be seen again. Perhaps that is the best way to spread such a tragic story.
This movie is not quite on that level of hard to bear, but perhaps we can give it a home in the “Must Watch Once” genre.