"Sarah's Key": Does the novel work as a film?

The bestselling novel about the Holocaust has been made into a French film and just been released in the US. But does it work as a movie?

By , Monitor contributor

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    Kristin Scott Thomas has been praised for her star turn in "Sarah's Key," the film version of a popular novel set in Paris during the Holocaust. But review of the movie itself have been uneven.
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Tatiana de Rosnay's novel "Sarah's Key" has sold more than 3 million copies and lingered on The New York Times bestseller list for a total of 120 weeks. So it's safe to say that when a book that popular gets made into a movie, people start paying attention.

Weaving together the tales of Julia, a contemporary American journalist living with her family in Paris, and Sarah, a French Jewish girl who lived in Paris during the Holocaust, "Sarah's Key" is an intricate tale of tragedy and forgiveness. Sarah and her family are rounded up by the French authorities to be taken to Auschwitz. In an attempt to save her little brother, Sarah hides him in a locked cupboard.

Years later, Julia suspects that the family of her husband, Bertrand, own the same apartment that Sarah and her family were forced out of decades before, and she begins to unravel the dark secrets Bertrand's family has been keeping.

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Now "Sarah's Key" has been made into a French film starring Kristen Scott Thomas. The film, which was released in the US on July 22, currently has a 70% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Critics loved Thomas's performance; Cath Clarke from Time Out London called it a "prime-of-her-career performance." Also lauded was the film's close resemblance to the novel, with Joy Tipping of the Dallas Morning News saying that "fans of the book will be glad to hear that it’s a faithful adaptation." Some critics, however, damned the film even as they praised Thomas. Chris Hewitt of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, for instance, said called Thomas "the only one on the set who knows where she's going."

The film juxtaposes Sarah's scenes from the Holocaust with Julia's scenes of modern daily life – the same narrative technique used in the novel. But in a film, such a method serves to highlight the "depth and resonance largely absent from the modern scenes," according to Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

But for readers who loved the book – or moviegoers eager for an emotionally gripping, well-acted, if slightly uneven, film about the Holocaust – "Sarah's Key" should prove a late summer's gift.

Megan Wasson is a Monitor contributor.

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