Friday 5 August 2011

"Sarah's Key" (Scotsman 05/08/11)

Sarah’s Key (12A) ***
Directed by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Starring: Kristin Scott-Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup

The sight and sound of Kristin Scott Thomas speaking French has become a regular summer diversion in UK cinemas: both 2008’s I’ve Loved You So Long and – more surprisingly – last year’s tough, provocative Leaving became crossover hits off the back of the actress’s typically elegant and cultured presence. If she’s marginally less fluent here, that’s likely down to the role, that of an American journalist in latter-day Paris trying to find the words to describe one of Vichy France’s darkest hours: the state-overseen round-up of 13,000 Jews in July 1942 with an eye to their future deportation.

Flashbacks to these events make a committed attempt to recreate a history that, with its death leaps and rotting corpses, isn’t altogether pretty. Mitigating against this, however, is the bestseller soapiness of the wraparound scenes in which Scott Thomas wrestles with her own biological clock. Paquet-Brenner’s aim may have been to engage a younger generation – like the newspaper’s clueless junior reporters – for whom the phrase Vel d’Hiv means nothing, but Sarah’s Key gets glossier and more resistible as it goes on: were it not for the subtitles, this could easily go out on ITV primetime.

Sarah's Key is on selected release.

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