Elle s'appelait Sarah (Sarah's Key) (2010)

 

 

 

Director:     Gilles Paquet-Brenner.

Starring:    Kristin Scott Thomas (Julia Jarmond), Mélusine Mayance (Sarah), Niels Arestrup (Jules Dufaure), Frédéric Pierrot (Bertrand Tezac), Michel Duchaussoy (Édouard Tezac), Dominique Frot (Geneviève Dufaure), Natasha Mashkevich (Mme Starzynski), Gisèle Casadesus (Mamé), Aidan Quinn (William Rainsferd), Sarah Ber (Rachel), Arben Bajraktaraj (M. Starzynski), Karina Hin (Zoé), James Gerard (Mike Bambers), Joseph Rezwin (Joshua), Kate Moran (Alexandra), Paul Mercier (Michel Starzynski), Alexandre Le Provost (Policier en civil), Serpentine Teyssier (Gardienne immeuble), Simon Eine (Franck Levy), Julie Fournier (Femme brune Vel d'Hiv), Paige Jennifer Barr (Ornella Harris), Joanna Merlin (Mme Rainsferd), George Birt (Richard Rainsferd), Vinciane Millereau (Nathalie Dufaure), Sylviane Fraval (Bertrand's Mother), Dan Herzberg (Le gendarme rouquin), Nancy Tate (Alice), Frédérick Guillaud(Richard Rainsferd jeune), Maurice Lustyk (Homme au violon), Charlotte Poutrel (Sarah adulte), Maxim Driesen (Edouard Tezac enfant), Xavier Beja (André Tezac), Jacqueline Noëlle (Vieille femme), Jean-Pierre Hutinet (Le médecin ferme), Jonathan Kerr (Officier de police camp), Matthias Kreß (Officier allemand ferme), Franck Beckmann (Officier allemand train).

an American journalist living and working in Paris, France stumbles onto a Holocaust story that touches on the French part of her family

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

 

July 16, 1942, Paris.  A woman is in her apartment with her two children.  All of a sudden there is a loud knock at her door.  It's the police. The man tells the woman to open up or they will break the door open. The mother opens the door and the man asks if she is Mrs. Starzynski?  Yes, she is, but her husband isn't here.  The man tells her that she is coming with them and she's to pack enough food for three days. Michel is her son.  Michel's sister hides the boy in a closet in the children's room.  She locks the closet with the key and keeps the key.  Sarah's father comes home and she races to him. 

Flash forward.  Paris 2009.  Julia Jarmond and her daughter Zoe are going to move into an apartment.   The apartment was once the home of the architect's grandparents.  He adds that the Marais used to be a working-class neighborhood.  His father (Zoe's grandfather) lived here.

Julia works for a magazine.  The core group discusses topics for the magazine.  One story started in July of 1942 when the French arrested 13,000 Jews.  They took 8,000 of them and put them in a small stadium under inhumane conditions.  A young fellow says that it was the Germans who did this, but Julia tell him that no, it was the French who did this. 

Flashback.  The family is put on a bus.  Sarah's father asks her and mother how could they have left their son behind?  Sarah shows dad the key and says:  "He'll be safe there."  The bus arrives at the stadium and the Jewish people with their yellow stars get off the bus.  The toilets are all blocked up, so the people have to go on the floor in a corner.  Making it worse, there is no water.  A woman jumps to her death on the stadium floor.  Sarah starts worrying about Michel.  A young, pretty woman named Anna tells Sarah's mother that some men have permits they can get out with.  Sarah wants to give the closet key to Anna, but her father says no.  He doesn't think anyone can get out of the stadium.  Anna fakes being very sick and is taken to see the doctor.  A man gives her a slip of paper, an exit permit.  Seeing the woman being let out, Sarah's father rushes down to the police telling them to go and arrest his son who is still at home and he gives the police the address.  He acts a bit crazy and gets rifle-butted in the head for his troubles.  He goes down.  Sarah yells at her father:  "Why didn't you give her the key?  Why didn't you trust me?"  Dad shouts why did Sarah lock her brother in the closet?  Now father and daughter both cry. 

Julia interviews a woman who lives right across from the stadium.  She says that after awhile they had to keep their windows closed on account of the smell.   The woman says what could they have done to help the Jews?  Nothing. And they had been told so many terrible stories about the Jews and what they were doing to France. 

The Jewish people are now put on the back of trucks to be taken away.  Many rumors of what will happen to them are shared amongst the people in the trucks.

Fast Forward.  Julia visits with her mother-in-law in a hospice.  The older woman mentions that they moved into the apartment in August of 1942.  Julia feels dizzy and mother-in-law says she thinks Julia's pregnant. 

Julia visits her apartment.  It is all torn up as a lot of renovations are being made.  She calls her husband Bertrand from the apartment.  She asks him if he knew his grandparents moved into the apartment during the war?  He says yes. 

Flashback.  Beaune-la-Rolande, Transit Camp, July 1942.  The women and children are separated from the men.  Then they are put in separate barracks. 

Fast Forward.  Julia is indeed pregnant.  She tells her husband and he is not pleased judging by his cool reception to the pregnancy.  He says at their ages the baby is at risk.

Flashback.  The Jewish people are being moved again and this time they are separating out the children over the age of 12 from the mothers.  The children will leave first.  Younger children will stay for another week.  Now they tell everyone that the men have already left the camp.  The French guards take Sarah away from her mother.  Sarah holds onto the closet key no matter what. 

Flash Forward.  Julia goes to the holocaust museum.  A director tells her that they are all among the 11,000 children sent from France.  The man also tells her that the Marais was a Jewish quarter, like Belleville and Menilmontant.  She then asks the director for information on the apartment she and her husband are buying.  She gets a picture of Sarah. 

Flashback.  A little child is there when Sarah wakes up from her fever after three weeks.  The children run to the barbed-wire fences to get some goodies from the locals.  At night Sarah plots an escape with an older girl.  A French guard helps them go under the barbed wire.  The girls run through a huge wheat field.  In the woods they lay floating on their backs in a lake. They reach a town at night and keep away from the German patrols. 

Flash Forward.  Julia can't find Sarah or Michelle's name among the lists of the dead.  She says she's sure the two girls escaped.

Flashback.  The girls are first rejected by house residents, but then they are taken in.  The adults have to get a German military doctor for Michele.  The doctor figures that the little girl is Jewish.  He knows there were two little girl escapees from the camp and he goes looking for another child.  He doesn't find Sarah.  Michele dies. 

Flash forward.  Julia finally talks with her father-in-law about the Starzynski family.  He says that only his father and he knew about what happened.  He also says that his wife must never know about the day that the little girl came back.  Sarah ran up to the third floor of her apartment building.  The old couple with her lag behind her.  Saran bangs on the door to her one-time apartment, pushes by the boy who answers the door, goes to her room, and with her key opens up the closet door.  There she starts screaming her head off as she finds the dead body of her brother.  The old couple comes into the room together with Julia's father-in-law's father and they all discover the body.  Of course, they are all upset. 

The old couple took the body away with them.  From 1942 to his death, father-in-law's father never once spoke the girl's name.  The girl Sarah was part of the secret.  Father-in-law also says there are some personal papers held in the bank.  Julia asks if she can look at the papers, and gets a nod yes.

Julia comes home to her apartment, but tells her husband that she doesn't know if she can live for even one day in the apartment.  Her husband has brought a picnic dinner for them, and they have a romantic dinner by candlelight. But Julia is still mad at her husband for wanting her to abort their baby.  And he also wants them to live in China.  In one week, he will sign the "deal of the century".   She also mentions getting the apartment from a Jewish family.  Her husband asks her about that part.  Julia tells him to ask his father about it. 

Julia goes to her bedroom and looks through the personal papers taken from the bank.  She finds some letters in a file labeled Sarah.  Julia starts reading the letters.

Julia's husband goes to his father's place and asks him about the Jewish family.  Dad says he kept it a secret to protect the family.  Julia calls to tell father-in-law that his father always did the right thing.  Father-in-law gives a sigh of relief.  His father sent 100 francs every month to the old couple for Sarah, who grew up with the old couple's two grandsons, Nicolas and Edgar. Sarah grew up to be a beautiful young lady.  She was, however, secretive and wild, as well as restless.

74 trains left for Aushchwitz.  76,000 Jewish people were deported from France and never came back. 

Julia finishes her 10 page article on what happened to the Jewish people in France.   Her young female colleague says what happened was disgusting, but Julia says that the young lady doesn't know what she would have done at that time.  

Julia continues her search for Sarah.  She was going to have an abortion, but in the end decided against it.   

Julia goes out to see a daughter of one of the grown children of the old couple's grandsons, Nicolas and Edgar.  Julia meets Nathalie.  She tells Julia that it's been over 50 years since her grandfather has seen Sarah. One day she left a note and took off in a taxicab.  It was May 1953.  She left no address.  Grandfather took it the hardest, but he said that in a way he expected that Sarah would leave for good one day.  The last they heard from her was in 1955.  Sarah went to America, in fact, to Brooklyn.  She sent the old couple a wedding invitation for her wedding to Richard Rainsferd.

Julia goes to Brooklyn. She visits many Rainsferd addresses, but has no luck.  She finally finds a suburban house and relatives of Sarah.  She meets Richard Rainsferd's second wife and her daughter, who is a half-sister to Sarah's son, William, who lives in Florence, Italy.  Sarah herself in 1966 committed suicide by driving her car into an oncoming, very large truck.  Richard himself is very old and sickly now.  Richard's present wife says he's too sickly to talk to Julia about Sarah.  

Julia heads for Florence, Italy.  She meets with William Rainsferd, Sarah's son, and it's almost immediately evident that William knows nothing of his mother's early life.  William says he's sorry that Julia came all this way for nothing.  So Julia gets out a copy of a photo of Sarah and shows it to William.  William says his mother wasn't Jewish, she never lived in Paris and Julia can keep her story to herself.  He tells her not to contact him again. 

Julia goes back to Paris and her family.  She says she doesn't know what she will do now, except that she has a deep desire to keep this baby.  Her husband has a deep desire not to keep the baby.

William goes to Brooklyn to see his sick father.  Dad asks if he saw the lady journalist?  Yes, he did.  Dad tells his son to sit down, and starts to tell the story of Sarah as he knew her.

He first met Sarah in a dance hall in Manhattan.  He saw her alone at a table and walked over to her and sat down at the table.  He was struck with the feeling that she was the saddest person he had ever met.  He then tells William, that her accident was not an accident, but a suicide.  William is shocked, and there's more to come.  His mother was Jewish.  Dad hands William his mother's journal and asks him to go ahead and read it.  William opens the journal and discovers Sarah's key.  He asks what is this key for? 

Two years later.  Julia is in Central Park with a stroller and her baby daughter.  She meets with William at a restaurant.  She tells William that she has been here now for about a year.  Her husband is in France, but the girls are here with her.  William lets Julia look through his mother's journal. Later, Julia says she may go back to Paris.  She also tells William that her baby's name is Sarah.  William is over come with emotion and Julia tries to comfort him. 

Julia writes:  "And so I write this to you, my Sarah, with the hope that one day when you're old enough, this story that lives with me, will live with you as well.  When a story is told, it is not forgotten.  It becomes something else, a memory of who we were, a hope of what we can become."

 

Good movie.  Kind of like a detective story with journalist Julia living and working in France and tracking down the story of a child survivor of the Holocaust named Sarah.  She finds out that Sarah's story is intertwined with the story of her husband's life story.  This just adds to the intrigue of the story for the journalist as she travels even to the USA for part of the story.   Julia goes through many different tough emotions researching the story, but finally does get the entire story of Sarah.  Of course, a Holocaust story is going to be a brutal one and this one is no exception. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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