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Film / Sarah's Key

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Sarah's Key (French: Elle s'appelait Sarah) is a 2010 French drama by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, adapted from the novel of the same name by Tatiana de Rosnay.

Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas), an American journalist who lives in Paris with her French husband and daughter, is tasked with investigating the Vel' D'Hiv roundup, a 1942 event in German-occupied Paris where thousands of Jews were rounded up and forced to stay in appalling conditions in the Vélodrome D'Hiver until they could be deported to German camps. The film simultaneously follows the story of Sarah Starzynski, a young Jewish girl who in 1942 is arrested with her parents during the roundup. They are taken to the Vel' D'Hiv, but not before Sarah locks her younger brother in a secret wallspace to keep him safe from the Germans, promising to return shortly to free him. Julia Jarmond will discover in the course of her investigations that her and Sarah's lives are intertwined.

Sarah's Key contains examples of:

  • Better to Die than Be Killed: In the trucks on the way to the transit camp, an old man reveals he has poison concealed in a ring so that he can determine the time and method of his death.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sarah is Dead All Along, and Michel as well. Julia divorces her husband, but she keeps her baby daughter and she's considering moving back to Paris. She has also befriended William, who has accepted his mother's Dark and Troubled Past, and Julia's daughter's name is... Sarah.
  • Death of a Child: The poor parents realizing that their daughter has likely unwittingly caused her brother's terrible death. And they will never learn what happened to their children.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Ultimately, the book and film seek to confront the unpleasant fact that it was mostly French collaborators who carried out the roundup, and to explore the attitudes of other French people at the time who closed their eyes to the atrocities in front of them.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Michel's death completely breaks Sarah.
  • Dark Secret: The Tezacs' (Julia's husband's family) apartment was vacated in 1942 because its Jewish occupants had been rounded up to be deported to camps. Julia's brother-in-law and his father were both in the apartment on the day Sarah returned and opened the secret closet to find Michel's rotting body, but in order to protect everyone else in the family, they never spoke of it again.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Julia's daughter is named Sarah.
  • The Determinator: Sarah will do everything to reach her little brother.
    • Julia to a lesser extent. She's deeply invested in finding Sarah, and she goes through with her desire to keep her baby, even at the cost of her marriage.
  • Dead All Along: In Sarah's arc, Michel. In Julia's arc, Sarah.
  • Did Not Die That Way: William is told his mother's death was an accident. It was not, she had killed herself.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sarah kills herself by driving into the path of an oncoming truck because she is too haunted by Michel's death.
  • Emotionless Girl: Grown-up Sarah has shades of this; it's completely justified, considering what happened to Michel.
  • Fatal Flaw: Sarah deciding on her own to lock her brother in the secret closet led to his death — and probably a very unpleasant one at that.
  • Final Solution
  • Heel–Face Turn: The camp guard, Jacques, who ultimately helps Sarah and Rachel to escape the camp after trying to prevent them from leaving.
    • Mr. Dufaure may also count. At first, he turned the girls away so he wouldn't get in trouble, but then he adopted Sarah.
  • Kill the Cutie: Michel and Rachel.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Julia miraculously becomes pregnant late in her life after a failed IVF and two miscarriages. Unfortunately, her husband doesn't want another child.
  • My Greatest Failure: Sarah didn't manage to save Michel.
  • Mysterious Past
  • Parental Substitute: William is raised by a lovely Italian stepmother.
  • Personal Horror: Sarah had to live with the fact she inadvertently locked her brother in the closet during the Nazi raid, and eventually her depression lead her to commit suicide as an adult.
  • Plucky Girl: Sarah, and how.
  • Posthumous Character: Sarah.
  • Scenery Gorn: The Vel' d'Hiv.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Sarah constantly thinks of her brother left behind in the secret closet and escapes from the camp to end up in Orleans, which is much farther from Paris. She risks the trip to go back to her old house only to find her brother dead.
  • Tell Me About My Father: William at the end asks Julia about his mother.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We don't see what happens to Sarah's parents... until Julia learns they died in Auschwitz.