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Movie Review: Sarah’s Key

The reel short take is about Sarah’s Key.  I read the book and listened to the audiobook and now I’ve seen the movie.  Heloise wrote a book review if you want to check it out. The movie could have easily been on HBO or a special on TV because it was just not that special.

This film won’t make any best of the year or end of the year movies to see but it was what I expected.  The book and the movie are sympathetic to the Jews in the story, no surprise there.  There are not many Germans in the film because it was the French who sent the jews to Vel d’Hiv and on to the death camps.

I think the problem with the movie is that it is so simple that it underwhelms.  To say plays it safe would not describe what this movie does.  It mostly moves from one scene to the other and back and forth between present and past. Finally we get back to the present where we find Kristin Thomas finding the son who did not know he was Jewish. In the book they get married or something but in the movie they do form a  bond.  There is nothing really emotionally about the progress of the film.

Sarah’s Key is just a basic movie that follows the book along pretty closely but does not move the audience IMO.  I give it two out of five stars.  It’s watchable.

Sarah's Key

Kristin Thomas

Book Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Philippe Pétain

Image via Wikipedia

First published at

The nonfiction book is my sheppard through history. But a novel rescues like a St. Bernard from desert monotony or the mirage of the mundane. Let’s face it in this over-heated summer of discontent we need a break for a few days. Avid readers often take refuge in the romance novel or the latest sci-fi blockbuster. But for this reviewer I need Europe pre-war, World War II where I can peer over stone walls into lives of uncertainty. I can’t get my fill of facts of life in private homes and the everyday of peasants to city people to ghetto dwellers who inhabited the late 1930s to the mid 1940s Western Europe, so I keep looking for books on the subject.

To that end two books caught my fancy this summer one a novel Sarah’s Key and the other a reconstructed autobiography Not the Germans Alone: A Son’s Search for The Truth of Vichy by Isaac Levendel which I read concurrently. Both dealt with the French role in the Shoah: with the tools of the Vichy Government under 84-year-old Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain, culminating in the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup, Vel’ d’Hiv for short where nearly 100,000 immigrant French Jews and French Nationals of Jewish origin were rounded up in a huge, now razed, stadium, moved to Drancy sent to final destination—ovens of Auschwitz. Transports from France differed from other ghettos transports in that they went directly to the gas showers and the crematorium.

De Rosnay has a vested interest in France, where she lives with her husband and two children, as an established European novelist/writer; however, her original manuscript, a novel about a French girl born in France to Jewish immigrant parents caught up in the Vel’d’hiv with a secret, was rejected. The author persisted and Sarah’s Key is now a major motion picture, a wonderful published novel and audio-book about a family in France fingered by the Vichy government and rounded up. French families caught in this waiting ghetto like those in Polish ghettos dare not go beyond the pale. And when Sarah realizes that her family will not return in time for dinner after the roundup frets secretly over locking her brother in a hidden closet. Sarah cannot go beyond the pale which in this case are bolted doors of Vel’ d’Hiv and posted guards. She begs, she cajoles but will she get out in time and what will she find when she gets back to her brother?

Sarah survives in the novel but what happens to her brother, her family and offspring and the present-day journalist covering the story de Rosnay weaves these subjects and more with intrigue, twists and turns, roadblocks and warm welcomes from the characters of Sarah’s Key.

I read the book and listened to the audio-book both I enjoyed for their company and information. One critique involves the two tales: one present and one mid-war Paris. I did not have a problem with the two timelines but often the journalist’s personal life impinged and I found myself saying TMI. Spliced with Sarah’s story was the journalist covering this story; her personal problems in a rocky marriage and an impending abortion. I just wanted to skip those details and did. I really wanted more or all about Sarah, her family’s tribulations at the hands of French police and German laws—the events at hand. Life hangs in the balance for them, since we do know one thing: the year 1945 was fast approaching and Hitler was in a hurry to carry out his plans before the end of his Third Reich.

The author’s clear caveat that this is not an historical novel brimming with brilliant research presented as novel. Yet, it holds many accurate details but you have to tease them out for yourself, because they are mixed with purely fictional characters and events.

While Warsaw ghetto life was well-documented with hundreds of books detailing the ghettos there, French collaboration with the Germans was not. It is no secret but the French were not exactly transparent: not exactly shouting the crimes from red tile rooftops about their eager alliance with the SS and its many racial laws. Laws that arrived one day and were implemented by the police before the ink dried. Sarah’s Key details some of the steps ordered by Germany. The final solution was a well-oiled machine that began with Kristalnacht, pogroms and restrictions and ended with Zyklon B pellets dropped into crowded “showers.”

Sarah’s Key tells a story set amidst German efficiency and need for order. They carefully set the stage in this truly historical genocide in steps: identification of the Jews; isolation of Jews; selection/roundup; transportation; final separation and final solution. Those who were separated and found “jobs” often survived the Holocaust or Shoah. The others were separated and marked for death and they did not return from the ashes of Auschwitz. But you will return from reading this book with a new appreciation for dark history brought to light.

Velodrome d’Hiver: French Jews Roundup—Sarah’s Key (movie and book) link about the book

My review of the book:

amazon link Sarah's Key (Movie Tie-in)

I love books about Europe during and before the war because I walked it just before Hitler took over.  This movie is coming out in limited release next week but you can buy the book now.  I love the history of the Jews as they were in the various ghettos and either liberated or sent on trains to the gas chambers.  That’s the part that I study in particular.  Not because the Jews get gassed, remember the arabs are semites too, but because it is also the history of Europe at this time and place.  I hope it does not take too much in present time.