May 22, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 25 August 2011 11:13
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a film adaptation of the book, Sarah’s Key.The horrors of the Holocaust still haunt us today. Some 70 years after these atrocities occurred, the lessons from this tragedy cannot be overlooked.
Sarah’s Key reminds us of the significance of this period without letting the period trap its dramatic potential. Instead of offering a familiar view of another chapter in the Holocaust story, the film carefully places this event within a broader narrative of a present-day woman trying to bring perspective to past tragedies. Through her eyes and words, we remember the events with sadness, and we see how history could easily repeat itself.
In Paris, in 1942, Jewish families are targeted by the Nazis for transport to death camps. When one family, living in a modest apartment, is told to go with some 13,000 others to the Velodrome cycling stadium, the youngest daughter quickly hides her younger brother in the bedroom closet for safety. She later fears she made the decision too quickly as guilt begins to haunt her journey.
In the present day, a magazine writer living in Paris becomes fascinated by this little-known chapter in World War II history. As she begins her research, and begins to remodel the same apartment, she discovers a connection between those tragic events of 1942 and her husband’s family. They took over the apartment shortly after the Jewish family was taken away and this writer they might have been involved with what happened to these people. As with the young girl years before, guilt haunts this lady’s attempt to discover truth.
In a creative balancing act, the story from the past teaches a part of the Holocaust we seldom hear about as the present-day narrative prompts us to consider what meaning the Holocaust must continue to inspire. By connecting the past and present stories, director Gilles Pacquet-Brenner creatively makes the film something more than a recreation of the past; the focus on the present makes the story relevant to what we observe in the world today.
Such a combination of stories could be difficult to manage as one could easily overwhelm the other. But the two narratives naturally connect through the beautifully realized detail of the production design, costumes and direction. By this time, because we have seen many films about the Holocaust, we have certain expectations of how they will look and be staged. Director Pacquet-Brenner defies tradition by shooting what could be overly familiar sequences, during the roundups and in the camp, in thrilling new ways. Because he looks at the story through the writer’s present-day lens he, as a director, envisions the circumstances in a fresh manner.
Kristin Scott Thomas is, as always, a marvel as the present-day writer, seamlessly shifting from English to French in her spoken word and never varying in her dramatic intensity. She continues to do fabulous work, primarily in French films, as a character actress who always brings a fresh approach and authentic interpretation.
Tragically, the personal impact of the Holocaust spans generations. The pain from this period, even today, haunts those who pass on the stories of those personally impacted. Movies like Sarah’s Key are important to teach and inspire us to make certain that history does not repeat. And, in the hands of such a creative filmmaker, a lesson can also entertain.
* Content: High. At its core is a beautifully written exploration of how guilt can travel through generations
* Entertainment: High. Even with its heavy subject matter, Sarah’s Key is a thoughtful and accessible film because it balances its historical and present narratives.
* Message: High. This nutritious film reminds us that horrible events in history can repeat unless people learn from our mistakes.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to introduce children to such an important piece of history is essential
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the different ways characters handle guilt in the film, and what it teaches them about how people can protect each other.
(Sarah’s Key is rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing situations involving the Holocaust. The film runs 113 minutes.)
4 Popcorn Buckets
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