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Sunday, 6 November 2011

By way of apology for never reviewing Sarah's Key (2)

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

7 November

Here, in one place (I think that only three are on
Rotten Tomatoes), are the works of criticism - some would say metacriticism - of the four reviews that appeared in the UK press...

Right! Next came Philip French at:

My comment (on 10 August):

These very short Guardian reviews, this one running to just 169 words, are inadequate in their very nature.

One might be forgiven, just from the humour - or at the attempt at it - in the opening sentence to think that Mr French has 'lost it', as has been suggested. Certainly, the quip wasted around one-sixth of the total length, and gives us little credit for knowing how things work, if we are supposed to believe that he was really so misinformed.

Or is it, for him, just like a conveyor-belt, with a voice announcing what comes next and which he mishears to make some sort of joke, sadly misjudged when, as he admits, the reality is inhuman treatment and genocide?

As for much of the meat of the review, I can live with it, probably, though it is inexplicable why Julia's (Kristin Scott Thomas') husband is deemed 'dodgy' - he may be uncaring about her real needs, and superficially appearing to take account of them, whereas he is really looking to his career. If so, then these mini-reviews don't have the time to say what they mean, and are a shorthand that is not even clear to someone who has already seen the film.

I have seen the film, and I will see it again - I did so with I've Loved You So Long, and it 'worked' just as well as it did the first time, even though I knew where it was going. I full believe that Sarah's Key will too, and, if someone who is used to film found this confusing, then what hope for watching, say, Chinatown?

It's just that certain films require rather more work from the viewer than others, and it really was not difficult to keep up with Julia's quest (for that is what it is, or becomes) at all - I have no idea how the unfolding of what she finds out, and what happens in consequence, relates to the novel, but I shall find out.

In the meantime, I will be finding more in the complexity that this reviewer took for something else: the complexity is not in the plot, it is in the emotional response, all excellently acted, of at least five characters (Julia, her husband (dodgy or not), his father (her father-in-law), and in Sarah's adoptive parents (particularly her father) and her son), and little of it overplayed or drawn out by the score.

But, finally, what about 'Thomas is good as always' - is this a text-message that just happens to be related to a rating of four stars, or is it foolish to be asking why the reviewer is (a) assuming that we know how good she is, and (b) not bothering to tell us more than she has done her job as she should? Five casual words, when thirty-seven were wasted on the opening sentence!


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