Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sarah's Key (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Sarah's Key

Films about the Holocaust and World War II, are frequently charged enough. They don't require any subplots, extraneous melodrama or armchair philosophy. The horror speaks for itself. "Schindler's List" got it right. A movie laid bare for all to see. We sensed that epic film on our skin and in our musculature. Not merely a "film" but an experience in dark light. 

Together with "Schindler's List" many Holocaust films from other directors are well done with different aspects of this abhorrent period. Not all of them are perfect, but they are nonetheless resonant.

"Sarah's Key" based on the popular book by Tatiana de Rosnay is the latest film to join this group of emotive  works. It is a fine, heartfelt film, but   the subplot is unnecessary and does not add much to the touching power of the main story. And Eeek! It philosophizes in a pedestrian self-help manner. Why?

The film stars Melusine Mayance as a ten year old who hides her brother in a hidden cupboard  during the Nazi-occupation in France. Mayance does a tremendous job in her role and the scenes of Sarah sick and being torn from her mother are as heart rending  as any sequence in any war movie, ever.  As is the possibility of escape and the eventuality of opening a long sealed up cupboard after months. Sarah's little hand clenched over the key as she endures sickness and fear says it all. The tension as she fumbles for the wall is a real life horror show and almost too much, but it is when the movie shines. 

Enter veteran actor Kristen Scott Thomas as Julia Jarmond, a reporter who doggedly crisscrosses the globe to find out--yes, we knew it---what had happened to Sarah. The reporter paces to and fro. She becomes pale, she frets worries and whines about her relationship. It's a wonder that she has time to write. Why go this route? It is confusing with baggage.  "Sarah's Key" is compelling enough in its primary focus: a young girl trying to free her brother. After all, she promised him.

Don't get me wrong. Kristen Scott Thomas is very good. Her character as written though, is just lacking, given that the primary episode is so compelling. I don't really care about Julia.  But I care about Sarah and your eyes will follow her to the end of the earth. She will also get your heart. Even as Sarah matures,  her character stays consistent in its willfulness and we are riveted.

The film's chemistry and motion is so strong that with a few weak points at the end, you'll feel a bit let down. Julia is led on such a cat and mouse chase, from New York to Italy and it takes so much time that it seems like "The Da Vinci code: Closed doors and missed chances.  Julia tracks down William, Sarah's son. William (Aidan Quinn) is understandably moved to tears but he doesn't show much range of emotion.

Worse, when Julia admits that she has named her daughter "Sarah" I found my  head shaking. Good Grief. 

The last shot with a preachy voiceover: something about history allowing us to become who we really are and can become, and in time, something better, is pure greeting card and superfluous. This is an adult film and quite powerful. But it is a pity that "Sarah's Key" did not act its age throughout.

Fortunately, young Melusine Mayance can act with  verve beyond her years. And she alone saves this film from its made for TV Hallmark moment.
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