Sarah's Key is a French film that came at me from left field, but I'm glad it came along. The film revolves around an episode of the Holocaust that is usually forgotten for all the wrong reasons, an episode where the French took it upon themselves to do the Nazis work for them. An episode that took place during 1942.
We start by following a French family. They are Parisians through and through, but because they're Jewish they have French police knocking on their door and gathering them together with 12,000 others at a sports arena in the middle of Paris. In the case of our family, little Sarah takes the initiative and hides her little brother in a secret closet before leaving home. To prevent him from coming out the closet at the wrong time she locks him in, but when she and the rest of the 12,000 find themselves stuck in the arena for days and days with no provisions and no toilet facilities she realizes locking her brother was a mistake and does her best to go and rescue him. We follow her through her attempts to make use of her key and unlock her brother.
In parallel to witnessing Sarah's story we witness the one of a modern day American journalist living in Paris, Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas). Opportunity presents itself to Julia and she is able to research and publish an article about those events from 1942. As she researches she realizes the apartment she and her French husband are about to move to is the apartment that our Sarah used to live in up to 1942. She takes it upon herself to uncover Sarah's story for herself (and for us), but she is not ready for the effect Sarah's story is going to have on her. As they say, this time - it's personal.
The result of combining the Holocaust story with the modern day story is a very effective way with which to point out what an effect the "small" personal tragedies of the Holocaust have on everyone involved. Without being graphic and without showing us big time atrocities like the inner workings of the concentration camps, we are still bearing witness to some major events.
Sarah's Key goes to prove a simple point concerning human nature. When we hear, for example, that 100,000 people died in Haiti due to an earthquake the majority of us would just flip to the next page of our newspaper; this is a tragedy too big to digest. Can we even imagine what so many people look like? On the other hand, when we hear the personal tragedy story of a single character our empathy levels are on full. By providing us with two easy to identify with characters, one from the Holocaust and one from modern times - representing us - Sarah's Key takes us on a full on personal experience.
Best scene: As can be expected from a film such as this one is spoiled with many potential candidates. My vote probably goes to the scene in which little Sarah appeals to the humanity of a big French policeman to ignore her attempts to escape the camp the kids were temporarily stored at prior to their "processing".
Technical assessment: An average DVD at best; I doubt this one enjoyed a big budget.
Overall: At around 4 out of 5 stars, I highly recommend this one.