“Sarah’s Key” lectures, does not entertain

By Brian Duskey

January 30, 2012

It seems that some people confuse a good story with a good theme. There is quite a difference. The film "Sarah's Key" deals with a very emotional historical event: the Holocaust. But while this film succeeds in its purpose of educating the audience, it does not entertain them. The story of this film follows a modern-day French journalist (Julia) who is obsessed with the story of a young girl (Sarah) who was separated from her family during the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in 1942. This was an event where the French police captured 13,152 Jewish victims in Nazi-occupied France and transported them off to camps, where they would be executed. While the story is quite touching and educational, it drags for a long time. It is not until the 45-minute mark that the audience even starts to realize what the story is about. Even then, it is explained rather quickly, so it could be very confusing for an audience member that is not quite intrigued by such historical events. Characters in "Sarah’s Key" are poorly explained. Julia meets with several people who lived during the time of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. They recall the occurrences and describe how they met Sarah. This had great potential for some really touching and intriguing characters, but they come off as dull. The instances that they recall are very dark, including Sarah finding her dead brother locked in a closet; however,  there is no background to these characters. We meet them and then they are gone almost immediately. We really needed to spend more time with them and get to know them. "Sarah’s Key" is reminiscent of a bad documentary. The message and topic is very raw and emotional, but it is poorly executed. When dealing with a subject like the Holocaust and innocent children, there is a strong potential for a truly raw and gripping experience. The writers and filmmakers of this piece failed at that. The film was based on the 2008 novel “Elle s'appelait Sarah e” which translates to “Her name was Sarah” in English, so the filmmakers probably want to try and be somewhat loyal to the novel. The issue is that most novels are very high on information and low on action and visuals (with some exceptions). In film, when you keep all of this information, the entertainment and quality of the story suffers. If you’re expecting an excellent historical film like "Schindler’s List" or "The Pianist," you will be severely disappointed with "Sarah’s Key." It would work rather nicely for a high school history class presentation, but it fails in several categories as an artistic endeavor. Final verdict: Do not pick up this film.