Sarah's Key [Elle S'appelait Sarah] Review
By Rich Cline
Framing a harrowing story as an investigative mystery, this film carries a powerful emotional punch but never pushes the sentimentality. It also gives Scott Thomas yet another remarkable role to sink her teeth into.
Julia (Scott Thomas) is an American journalist living in Paris with her husband Bertrand (Pierrot) and their teen daughter (Hin). As they remodel Bertrand's family flat in the Marais, Julia is working on a story for her magazine about Parisian families who in 1942 were deported to Nazi camps in the most hideous conditions. Then one story catches her eye because it is linked to the flat.
And she starts to dig around, talking to Bertrand's father (Duchaussoy) and grandmother (Casadesus) to get to the truth.
Intercut with Julia's search is the series of events she's digging into: as a young girl in 1942, Sarah (Poutrel, then Mayance) locks her little brother into a closet to protect him from the police when she and her parents are taken away. Separation, an escape and adoption by strangers (Arestrup and Frot) follow as this young woman is deeply disturbed by her experience.
The film is beautifully shot and edited, layering the two stories against each other as Sarah runs from her past while Julie seeks it out. Thankfully, director-cowriter Paquet-Brenner never tries to be too clever about forcing the parallels; he lets each story play out in a way that's believable and extremely involving. And scenes in both periods feel fresh and compelling.
Scott Thomas provides a wonderfully steely centre as a tenacious woman determined to get to the bottom of this story, even after her assignment is technically finished. She's so effortless in the role that we are right with her in every scene, including personal moments as she struggles with the fact that she might be pregnant when she's least expecting it. And both actresses who play Sarah are excellent, especially young Pierrot, who carries the film's most gut-wrenching scene.
In some ways, this feels like yet another Holocaust drama. But the story has enough fresh twists and turns to make it distinctive. And the quality of the production and acting make it both vitally important and deeply moving.
Facts and Figures
Box Office Worldwide: $17.5M
Production compaines: UGC
Cast & Crew
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia Jarmond, Niels Arestrup as Jules Dufaure, Frédéric Pierrot as Bertrand Tezac, Michel Duchaussoy as Edouard Tezac, Dominique Frot as Genneviève Dufaure, Mélusine Mayance as Sarah Starzynski, Natasha Mashkevich as Mme Starzynski, Gisèle Casadesus as Mamé, Aidan Quinn as William Rainsferd, Sarah Ber as Rachel, Arben Bajraktaraj as M. Starzynski