The movie “Sarah’s Key” opens in 2009 Paris as a couple and their teen daughter Zoe settle on an apartment they plan to live in once renovations are completed.
But it quickly flashes back to an earlier time when a Jewish family living in the apartment hears a loud series of knocks on the door. Soon a mother and her daughter, Sarah, are hauled away with others wearing yellow “Juden” patches.
A neighbor looks on through an open window, screaming that “they had it coming to them.” Another screams a response across the courtyard — warning that they’ll be coming for her next. It’s 1942.
Before leaving the apartment, Sarah settles her younger brother into a hidden closet, telling him to wait there until she returns. As she’s herded away, Sarah clutches the closet’s key in her tightly clenched fist.
Sarah’s parents scold her for leaving him behind, unaware that they’ll soon meet a dangerous fate. As families are loaded for transport, the streets are full of chaos. It’s filmed so viewers feel they’re in the middle of it all, and it’s terrifying.
As scenes move back and forth between past and present, we see journalists discussing story ideas during an editorial meeting. One, Zoe’s mother, wants to write about French authorities rounding up Jewish citizens — something the younger journalists know little about.
The journalist, Julia, learns that the apartment handed down from her husband’s parents was once home to Sarah and her family — leading her to question their morality and to search for Sarah’s fate.
Sarah and her parents were first taken to a giant arena with no access to bathrooms, food or water. There they meet a woman who gives Sarah some advice — Think of yourself, only yourself.
Eventually they’re loaded onto trains, where they meet an old man wearing a large ring. He tells them it contains poison. “Nobody,” he says, “can choose when I die.”
At a transit camp, men are separated from women. Girls over 12 stay with their mothers. Younger children are herded to a separate area. It’s the last time members of Sarah’s family see each other, and it’s gut-wrenching.
We eventually learn what happens to Sarah, her parents and her brother. And we watch Julia comes to terms with this, and many other discoveries — about herself, about those she loves, about her own dreams for the future.
“Sarah’s Key” is a beautiful, thoughtful and sensitive film that tackles the impact of the Holocaust on individuals and families without being heavy-handed. It’s as hopeful as it is bleak, and it’ll leave you wondering how you might have handled similar circumstances.
“We’re all a product of our history,” says one character to another near the end of the film. “Go on son, don’t be afraid.”
Note: The movie “Sarah’s Key” is based on a historical novel by the same name, authored by Tatiana de Rosnay. (Shakespeare fans can check Fathom events for Valley theaters showing “Henry IV-Part 1” on Aug 1 as part of Shakespeare’s Globe London Cinema Series.)
Coming up: Review of “Baby!” at Arizona Broadway Theatre