Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frédéric Pierrot, Michel Duchaussoy, Dominique Frot, Natasha Mashkevich, Gisèle Casadesus, Aidan Quinn, Charlotte Poutrel
Written by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner, Gilles Paquet-Brenner, based on a novel by Tatiana De Rosnay
Directed by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing situations involving the Holocaust
Language: French, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 111
Date: 09/16/2010

Sarah's Key (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Lock Treatment

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Moving from a mediocre horror movie called Walled In (2009), director Gilles Paquet-Brenner takes on much more ambitious material with Sarah's Key. To his great credit, he uses powerful Holocaust imagery sparingly, and only to illustrate a brief point, rather than to run the audience through a ringer. He focuses on the strengths and shortcomings of the two women characters, several generations apart, and captures an uncommonly powerful portrait of both. Kristen Scott Thomas is particularly good, in a role that she seems born to play.

In 2009, journalist Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas) prepares to move into a Paris apartment belonging to her husband's family, when she notices a troubling detail about the apartment's history. During the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup of 1942, the Starzynski family lived there. The 10 year-old Sarah (M´┐Żlusine Mayance) locks her younger brother Michel in the closet and tells the French Nazi sympathizers that he is not home. Later, though Sarah and her parents are held prisoner in appalling conditions, Sarah realizes that Michel is not safe, and decides to escape and rescue him. But present day records show no trace of Sarah and her brother. Julia becomes obsessed with discovering the secret of the apartment, bringing the truth to Sarah's family at last.

Moreover, the director manages a fine balance between timeframes, which is not always easy (one usually dominates the other); the modern day sequences sometimes serve as a respite for the harsher 1942 scenes. Indeed, the rhythms of the mystery unfolding in the 2009 sequences are perhaps even more quietly compelling than the more primal, more powerful war sequences. Either way, Paquet-Brenner keeps up a steady pace and an effective emotional resonance.

Anchor Bay's Blu-Ray comes with a feature-length making-of documentary, and some trailers.

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