How we process guilt is such an individual endeavor. In the context of the Holocaust, it’s sometimes collective but also extremely personal. In the new film “Sarah’s Key,” it’s both.
The story shifts back and forth between 2002 and 1942. Kristin Scott Thomas portrays an American journalist (Julia) living in Paris who is writing a piece on the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. On July 16, 1942, 13,000 Jews were herded into an arena without food, water or toilet facilities. Shortly after, they were dispatched to Auschwitz — not by Nazis, but by the French people.
During her research, Julia discovers a personal connection to a Jewish family that was forcibly removed from their apartment during the atrocity. Her in-laws have owned the apartment ever since. She becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the displaced family and her own family’s involvement.
Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner wisely opted to shoot the 1942 scenes with a handheld camera. It chillingly intensifies the terror of children being torn from their mothers’ arms at the camps. The horror and chaos is so vividly captured it will haunt your dreams — as will Thomas’ amazing performance in this disturbing film.
Known for her understated and powerful acting ability in movies such as “Leaving” and “I’ve Loved You So Long,” Thomas never disappoints.
The title refers to the 10-year-old Sarah, who protects her little brother by locking him in a closet when the authorities come to take them away. She promises to come back. How she and Julia address their guilt from different perspectives lends vast insight into the human psyche.