Sarah’s Key

There are so many fantastic movies out right now, and between my being completely and utterly broke as well as being completely and utterly without free time, I have not been able to fit in a movie.  Fortunately, I was invited for a date last night and proposed that we head to see this fantastic film which I’ve been wanting to see for several weeks now.

I went, in fact, to see this film a bit ago.  I was very glad it was still in theaters, as the day I chose to go I was displaced by a giant, power-killing storm.  Without power, the theater was unable to show any movies, and I was left, therefore, without the experience.  At any rate, I was able to convince my date to head over to the Tara and see this film before it was taken out.  And boy am I glad that I did.

First, this is a film about many things – there are elements of self, of torture, of political and social upheaval and pressure.  There are themes regarding choice and loyalty, as well as those surrounding family and what makes family; of love and sacrifice; of mourning and loss of self.  What makes us who we are, and how do we define our relationships with others or ourselves through others?  Is it possible to be saved, and if so, who is it that saves us?  Do we owe more to ourselves or to others, and can we ever overcome our failures to either?  A beautiful and moving film, I left the theater with a poufy red face streaked with tears.  As always, expect a few spoilers.

The film follows two characters.  One from ‘today’ and one from 1942.  Both are in Paris.  One of our heroines, tragic though, is the young Sarah, a French Jew.  The film follows her childhood experience of the Vel’ d’Hiv wherein the French government rounded up tens of thousands of French Jews – entire families – and kept them for days on a racing track with no food, water or lavatories before trucking them off to holding cells and, eventually, Auschwitz and other concentration camps.  When the police come for Sarah’s family – mother, father, daughter, son – Sarah decides to hide her brother, Michel, in a secret closet, locking him in and making him promise not to make a peep.  Sarah’s story revolves around her key and her promise to her brother to come back and release him from his hiding place.

The other heroine is Julia, a New Yorker transplanted to Paris.  She is married to a French workaholic and struggles with her own family dynamic.  She finds out, while researching the Val’ d’Hiv for a remembrance piece in her magazine, that this girl – Sarah Starzynski – and her brother Michel lived in the apartment that her in-laws have recently granted to she and her family.  Julia finds that the parents both died in Auschwitz – where the French government shipped them off to the mercy of the Nazi’s – while the children were never reported in any of the well-documented deaths.  She goes on a hunt for Sarah and finds a complex story.

I won’t ruin the film, because I really do think anyone interested should absolutely go see it.  But suffice to say that the remaining encounters – Sarah’s story, her key and the family she tries twice to rebuild, unsuccessfully; Julia and her search for Sarah, the bonds she both creates with one family while destroying with another – they will leave you reeling.  Not only does this story encompass the broader themes of human nature, love, healing and terror, but the microcosm of our tiny decisions that create ourselves.  Sarah makes a decision and it leads to a series of blind faith and luck combined with horrifying consequences, and Julia, similarly, makes decisions to sacrifice one relationship for the sake of another.

A beautiful, tragic and haunting film, I absolutely recommend it.