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Saturday, 3 December 2011

An appreciation of Sarah's Key - and not for what it isn't

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


4 November

There are times when I curse myself for having used the time when Kristin Scott Thomas signed my programme for me after her informed performance of Pinter's magnificent play Betrayal that I bothered her with how uniformly useless the UK papers' reviews had been - she didn't need to know (as (a) the run in the cinemas trounced their shallow views and (b) even if it hadn't, the DVD market was sure to pick up on it), and I could have said something other than thanking her for this film that they were too inadequate to appreciate.

So forget what they wrote, and their comparisons (which shouldn't have been made, even given the proximity in time) with this other film The Roundup, with which it clearly shares so little.

This is not the Kristin Scott Thomas French film that this time disappoints, it is better than Leaving (although I think that that film is very fine) and at least as good as I've Loved You so Long. Yes, one can always quibble about the plot, but Sarah's Key pulls no punches in doing justice to the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, from which it sprang.

And here some of these so-called UK film writers / critics got lost, by ascribing to the film what it is in the book (although, of course, it could have been changed), and by not understanding how Julia Jarmond is engaged in what happened to young Sarah Staryznksi, not least because she has a life within her that her husband views as a nuisance, and in her wanting to follow her story, wherever it goes.

The film ends with a truth: that what is shared as a story, goes on, and Julia's character, played with an enormous amount of integrity and with great respect to the times through which Sarah lived, wants to bring that truth, both husband Bertrand's family and to the family with which she feels such a human bond in the person of Sarah herself. Yes, she sometimes thinks that she has hurt and has done wrong, but she has actually healed, and has helped others to view their lives differently.

So forget all this rubbish about what happens 'in the third act' - films are not plays, and do not fall into acts, whether three or five. This is a vibrant and living piece of cinema, which transcends all this nonsense about acts.


I will watch this film on DVD, but I am glad that I had the chance to see it on the big screen, where it could touch audiences - I could here the silence of engagement in the screens in which I saw it. It is also a tremendous novel, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


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