Saturday, January 28, 2012

La Rafle (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

La Rafle

"La Rafle/ The Round Up" deals with the extremely heart-rending  subject of French collaboration with the Nazis, during the summer months of 1942. 13,000 people were taken by force, most of them children and their mothers. Nearly all were  sent to Auschwitz, under the direction of the Vischy regime. According to the film, out of the near 13,000 sent to their death, only twenty five survived.

The film does well by not trading euphemisms, but yet at the same time, it does not appear overbearing. Some of the  separation scenes between mother and child, although very emotional and difficult to watch, did seem to be taken directly from "Sarah's Key", but while this might lessen the charge to some audiences, to see it again is to re-awaken the jolt and to re-affirm a visceral response to the hideous wrongness of these events. No matter how many depictions you see, you will feel it again: the disbelief combined with the lingering sadness bound with awareness, the weight of guilt.

The best parts of "La Rafle" are the segments that feature the children . Simon and Nono Zygler (Oliver Cywe and Mathieu Di Concetto, respectively) gallop about playing tricks on Nazi soldiers and steal their caps only to wear them later, complete with SS insignia. Play continues on, without reverence, without boundaries. It is the children alone who preserve the bounce of spontaneity in such horrors of war.

At times, the film is an able addition to the canon of "The Little Rascals", so resourceful and buoyant the children are in the face of such uniform evil. In one scene, Simon throws heaps of marbles down the stairs to trip the Gestapo. It works. 

If the Walter Keane close ups of  children's  eyes seem too derivative of other scenes, the two main children will hold you firmly in this story. They have enough verve and original spin to outrun any historical demon. Playing is a necessity and the kids simply do what it takes.
Hitler ( Udo Schenk) appears as a live action Technicolor cartoon, stomping and raving. He is all boom and bluster, yet his larger than life color has a point in illustrating the contrast between arrogant loathsome slickness and human play, embodied in the children. When we see Hitler on his holiday regarding the mountains, he seems a  cardboard cutout from a sinister coloring book, both frightening and silly in his often-recorded stride.

The respected Jean Reno plays a compassionate doctor, although he is a character with little to say or do. Melanie Laurent plays real life hero Annette Monod, the Protestant nurse who stayed with the Zyglers at the risk of losing her own life.

Many might have seen the breaking sadnesses  of "La Rafe" before in other films, but it would be too easy to call it déjà vu here. The film's unnerving yet surreal touches of a supercilious Hitler in Super 8, set against the background of some spunky children playing against all odds, make this film more than another dark shadow-play.

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