Recently there was a science paper published listing the saddest movies of all time. It inexplicably listed The Champ (1979) as number one, at the expense of some genuine tearjerkers such as Disney's Bambi, Ghibli's Grave of the Fireflies, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Requiem for a Dream amongst countless other soul numbing features which scarily populate my own DVD collection - not sure what that says about me. Well there might be a new one to trump them all - at least for the time being - in the form of Gilles Pasquet-Brenner's Sarah's Key.
Adapted from Tatiana de Rosney's best selling novel, the film tells a tale set between the present day and 1940s France accounting the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, a dark period in Nazi occupied Paris where all the Jews in the city were taken from their homes by Parisian police and sent off to concentration camps. All the while, Kristin Scott Thomas plays a journalist living in Paris in 2010, researching the tragedy, focusing in on the trials and tribulations of a little girl named Sarah, as she attempts to escape a concentration camp, make her way towards home and be reunited with her brother who was hidden in their apartment before the rest were taken away.
You could rightly argue the whole subject of The Holocaust is a slightly over crowded sub genre in the grand scheme of period cinema. From Schindler's List, The Pianist, The Counterfeiters, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas I could go on and on. Usually all excellent, but I think possibly because this is the first I've seen in the cinema, Sarah's Key seemed to profoundly move me in a way few (if any) films have done all year.
Kristin Scott Thomas was terrific in the lead role, as you watch her go deeper and deeper into her investigation, bringing up old wounds of even her own family's past, it seems to also bring the audience into it also - conjuring memories of when I read a like minded novel, The Book Thief. One of the most innocent and touching performances I've seen in so long was young Melusine Mayance in the role of the title character. She has some particularly memorable moments none more so than the scene were she's reunited with her brother. Might want to get a box of tissues for that one...
Once the film hits its emotional height, just over two thirds of the way through, the story does unfortunately drag out and simmer a bit at the end with Scott Thomas' story coming to its own conclusion.
With little hint of hope or bitter-sweet redemption for all involved. Sarah's Key contained scenes which were both deeply moving as they were so profoundly sad. Kristin Scott Thomas lead with the same grace which has served her so well for over two decades now, while Melusine Mayance shined with as character so beautifully portrayed as possessing undeniable will and determination to face some genuinely terrifying human experiences. If you fail to be moved by this film, to weep or just to sit there in a state of numbness once the credits roll then I simply feel sorry for you, and your lack of soul.
Sarah's Key is in selected cinemas throughout the U.K. from August 5th, 2011.