I am utterly spent and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s poignant story of unintended consequences and debilitating guilt and sorrow moves back and forth between the 21st century and Paris under the control of the Nazis. Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) is researching a story about the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in 1942. This round up of over 13,000 Jews in the city was conducted not by the Nazis, but by the French police and army. Collaborating with their occupiers, they took them to a stadium, and then deported all the adults to Auschwitz. During her research, Julia learns that in 1942 her French husband’s parents had bought an apartment forcibly vacated by a Jewish family. This raises the question about whether or not they were personally involved in the event.
The key in the title refers to the one that a ten year-old Jewish girl named Sarah (Melusine Mayance) kept with her after hiding her little brother in a cupboard to keep him safe from the Germans who were breaking into their apartment. Her intention to return is thwarted by their arrest and deportation, and her anguish stems from the knowledge that her brother will keep his promise not to call out or try to leave before she returns. Will she be able to return in time to free him?
With flashbacks to wartime Paris and the present the film follows the life of Sarah and Julia. The latter becomes obsessed with discovering the facts about the Jewish girl, whereas the life of the former turns out to be full of anguish and regret. Well produced and acted, this tale suggests that at times those who survive a great tragedy are as much to be pitied as those who perished. Sarah and the psalmist share the same feeling of God-forsaken anguish.
Note: Discussion questions are available with this review for those subscribing to the Visual Parables journal. The journal also includes many extras–book reviews, the use of films for church seasons, a lectionary related column, and more. Hundreds of old reviews are also available in the subscribers; section. Check out the sample issue.