“Sarah’s Key” Review: How a Pregnant Woman is Equivalent Drama to The Holocaust

The opening of Sarah’s Key, a French drama based off a best-selling book of the same name, is promising; our titular character hides her brother in a locked closet as French police take her and the rest of her Jewish family off to concentration camps. They become part of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup; a Nazi-ordered mass arrest in Paris by French Police that resulted in over thirteen thousand Jews being held at the nearby Velodrome d’Hiver. The Velodrome is a massive indoor racing track, and as the harassed shuffle in for days of sweltering conditions without bathrooms or water (where many obviously died), the viewer braces themselves for another dark but at least new story of The Holocaust.

Five minutes later this part of the story ends and we follow Sarah who hopelessly races back to Paris to rescue her little brother still locked in a secret closet. The main arc isn’t anything new, but it’s rather understood that we as good progressive people will watch any well-shot Holocaust movie as our little penance to the horrible atrocity that happened. Since we didn’t step in sooner, we will watch a hundred movies of starving people shuffled into barns in the wilderness.

Here’s the curveball Sarah’s Key throws you, viewers: the majority of the movie jumps away from little Sarah and focuses on modern-day Julia; a journalist researching the event and tracking down what happened to our little survivor-to-be. Most of this time is spent as Julia dreads an oncoming pregnancy and moving. Let me restate this: we spend most of the movie with a rich woman worrying about her apartment and her baby.

Picture an episode of Lost. No, not the one where Walt made that bird fly into a window somehow. That was pretty cool and we never heard more about that. Think about an imaginary episode of Lost where the smoke monster is rampaging through the beach campsite, ridden by Jacob in the form of Jack’s father, and Ana Lucia and Ben’s daughter have both come back from the dead to have sexy zombie lesbian sex. Then we jump forward for a future storyline about Kate worried about Baby Aaron getting into preschool.

You probably want to get back to the first story, right? Substitute the smoke monster orgy with little Jew Sarah’s escape through Europe and Kate’s Problems with Julia the Messin’ With Everybody’s Business Reporter.

Julia has another child on the way but her husband wants an abortion considering his wife’s age and medical condition. They’re also moving into an apartment that his parents used to live in. This same apartment was where Sarah and her family lived before being shuffled off to the Nazi camps Extended Vacation Spas. The closet where Sarah’s little bro is dead is that same deluxe penthouse. Julia is overcome with vengeful investigation. How dare her extended family have lived in the same room? They did not force Sarah’s family out, report them to the French police, nor were they around when these events took place; her grandfather-in-law merely moved in weeks after Sarah’s family were taken away. Julia can’t stand the idea of living in a room where a boy had died (spoilerz). Try getting an apartment in New York, Reporter Lady. Every 2 Bed 1 Bath has seen a murder.

Julia flies around the world to exotic vistas as she tracks down Sarah’s family, forever cementing this as Eat, Pray, Holocaust. She stirs up family drama, wakes up dying old folks, and aggravates her relationship with her husband just to let a few choice Europeans that a boy died in their closet. Near the end, Julia encounters Sarah’s now-old American son who seems to be deeply troubled for some reason upon the revelation that his mother was actually a Jew. Don’t worry much for him; they later reconcile two years and it’s implied they’re going to bang. After Julia names her newborn daughter after his mother. The sex with that sort of messed up connection must be like heroin.

There are several inconsequential plot threads: Sarah escapes with a friendly girl in the camp who dies a day later of a random disease, Julia tracks down Sarah only to find she died of a car crash early in her 20s, Sarah leaves the rural couple that takes her in the middle of the night without explanation, etc. Knowing this film was based off a book, I chalked it up as historical accuracy. Sometimes real life just isn’t that interesting or well plotted out. Imagine my surprise to find the book is a work of fiction. This was the best Tatiana de Rosnay could come up with? Instead of coming off like a bleak message of “sometimes things don’t work out how you hope”, the story gives a heavy message of “Well, I felt like there should be a girl for Sarah to talk to for a few pages”.

Despite how desperate I wished to ignore Julia and her exaggerated crusade (people should know more about The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, less about where people died in the properties they’re renting), I found myself wondering why we focused on Sarah specifically. She’s cute and kind, but all children are like that. I can’t believe many kids who were rounded up with their families weren’t sympathetic characters. Sarah never shares any particular insight or helps anyone out. She’s described as “quiet” and “beautiful” and “sad”. That’s not enough for me to spend two hours with her. An alternate film about Sarah’s brother spending his last few days in a locked closet seems more captivating.

Not every person who died in WW2 and the surrounding events were interesting or good people. It is statistically impossible. There had to be a few assholes and boring crumb bums in there. Of the millions that died in The Holocaust, there had to be at least one really mean Jew who was a dick to everyone in the 1930s and stole from his local deli and kicked at dogs as he walked home each day. So you got a few points on the board, Nazis. Good job.

Sarah is in between. An innocent kid who saw things that were horrific but nothing that would be new to a film go-er. This would be excusable if we weren’t asked to sit through a woman’s mid-life crisis as well.

Near the end of the film, after Julia’s younger editor peers remark at how they can’t believe so many citizens in Paris could watch this happen and not act on it, to which Julia attacks, “How do you know what you would do? You weren’t there!” Woah there, Julia! When did you become a Vietnam vet? We’re on your side! Didn’t we just spend 120 minutes thinking on how bad it was no one helped? There’s just no pleasing you, woman.


About Chad Quandt

Writer for videogames, animation, the webcomic Suffrage. Master blocker in dodgeball. Barbecued with Corey Haim before he died.

Posted on November 9, 2011, in Books, Chad Quandt, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. That sounds like the weirdest film ever :/

  2. She’s worried about her apartment because she cannot stand to live in an apartment that was obtained by exploiting Jews during the holocaust. How is that not relevant???

    The other side of it is that the father of her child with whom she wants to raise the baby when it’s born belongs to a family that would be complicit in this atrocity. How is that not relevant???

    The great thing about this film is that it actually shows you how the holocaust still matters today, rather than being some random event from history which is completely unconnected to anything we’ll ever see.

    “Extended Vacation Spas”??? What the hell are you on about?

    “Sarah never shares any particular insight or helps anyone out. She’s described as “quiet” and “beautiful” and “sad”. That’s not enough for me to spend two hours with her.”

    Weren’t you only just complaining that we spend most of the runtime with Kristin Scott Thomas instead? Yes, Sarah is completely a victim. She’s not in a position to help people out. Kristin Scott Thomas’ character wants desperately to discover what happened to her. To ensure that at least one person who lived in that apartment got out alive. It’s a pity that you need Sarah to be a saint before you’ll care what happens to her.

    “How do you know what you would do? You weren’t there!” Woah there, Julia!

    No, NOT “woah there”. It’s a VERY good point. The roundup in France didn’t come out of nowhere. It couldn’t have been solved by a polite letter to your local council. People were helpless as it was going on and others were actively ensuring that it was followed through. It’s all too easy to say, oh I wouldn’t have let that happen and it’s utter nonsense too. It’s not an unreasonable outburst. It’s absolutely reasonable to not want these ignorant journalists being blase about a subject for which they haven’t done the research.

    “So you got a few points on the board, Nazis. Good job.”


  3. I personally think this review is very immature and I guess whoever wrote it was better off watching something a little more his level. This story was beautiful and the writing was beautiful.

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