Sarah's Key (US - BD RA)
Jonathan is wondering where the mystery in this mystery is..
A decades-old mystery unsolved. A Courageous life unknown. A family's secrets untold - until now. Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) is an American journalist living in Paris with her French husband Bertrand (Frédéric Pierrot), assigned to cover the anniversary of France's notorious 1942 Vel' d'Hiv Roundup of Jews in World War II. She's stunned to discover that Bertrand's family apartment was the scene of an unspeakable incident committed during the war; his family has been concealing a disturbing secret; and a young French girl Sarah (Mélusine Mayance) holds the key to unlock the devastating truth. (From the Anchor Bay synopsis)
Sarah's Key arrives advertised as a mystery story about a journalist uncovering a holocaust mystery. I'd like to set the record straight by pointing out that it is only a mystery to the protagonist. As the audience, we are privy to watching the story unfold through a series of flashbacks, starting with the opening scene. So if you're hoping for shocking twists and turns, this isn't the place to look. Despite this misleading premise, the film still tells an involving and touching story when judged on its own merits.
The real star of this movie is the young and talented Mélusine Mayance as the young Jewish girl, Sarah. The film opens with her and her little brother playing in their bedroom when they're interrupted by an officer knocking on the door. In a moment of fear, she locks her younger brother in a secret closet hidden in the wall and makes him promise to stay there. Unknown to her at the time, the officer was there to kick them out of their home as part of the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, and the family is separated from the little brother. As the narrative proceeds, we meet Julia's character. Kristen Scott Thomas is a very gifted actress (watch I’ve Loved You So Long if you need proof), but the character of Julia doesn't take much advantage of her talents. Julia is a journalist studying the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup for her research. The film transitions between Julia's life and the story of Sarah's experiences in the concentration camp. The movie becomes particularly interesting as the two timelines begin to converge in Julia's research.
The narrative shifts in time work well for the majority of the movie before it stops around the two-thirds mark, but they reveal so much so early on that it is hard to feel compelled by Julia's revelation. As a result, it doesn't make for much of a thriller, but the story is still absorbing regardless because of the intense subject matter and the fine performances that back it up. Veteran French actor, Niels Arestrup, demonstrated what a scary gangster he could play in 2009's Un prophète. Here, we see him play a compassionate character with equally commanding presence. Aidan Quinn has a brief but powerful supporting performance as well. The movie spends an awful lot of time developing Julia's character in ways that I felt did not complement the main story. She has skirmishes with her husband, particularly about her desire to be a parent. You could argue that this strong maternal urge is what keeps her so attached to Sarah's story, but the filmmakers never explore that connection in an interesting way.
Anchor Bay has released Sarah's Key with a strong 1080p transfer. Even though it is a BD-25, there is very little to complain about. Filmed on a Red One digital camera, it lacks the textured look of film but has a very clean look to it. Modern day scenes have a very natural appearance to them. Reds look especially rich on the walls of a renovated apartment. The flashback scenes have a distinctly orange-yellow tone to them and a boost in contrast to create an old fashioned feel. Blacks are especially deep. Having only seen the film on this Blu-ray release, it is hard to tell if the blacks are crushing, but certain scenes did feel unnaturally dark. Digital noise is evident in a couple scenes, and there is some very minor haloing, but nothing fatal.
I expected Sarah's Key to be a relaxed film; the kind where I usually spend this section explaining that the audio track doesn't do much but it should be expected given the subject matter. Well it's evident right from the beginning that this is not the case. The film opens with a home intrusion and fists pounding on a door can be heard coming from multiple directions, and in the LFE channel. It's a sobering way to kick start this tense drama, and the attention to spatial effects make it all the more effective. Footsteps trail from one speaker to the next as a character walks off screen. There's all sorts of noise filling the room during some chaotic scenes of crowds at the Jewish encampments. It's a far more dynamic mix than I expected. Dialogue levels aren't perfect and could've benefited from being slightly louder in some scenes, but they're not unreasonably quiet.
The only feature is The Making of "Sarah's Key" (SD, 01:03:06), but as you could probably guess from the runtime, it's an extra with some depth. It's mostly comprised of interviews with the filmmakers and a couple of cast members. They talk for a while about the origins of the film and the author of the original novel talks about her work as well. Further into the documentary we start to see a behind-the-scenes look at the production and filming process. Everyone involved seems very emotionally attached to the subject matter and the story that they are working with, which makes it a very involving and informative documentary for fans of the film. The footage is pretty raw and unproduced, so its not always pleasing to look at or to listen to, but the content carries it a long way.
Sarah's Key is not the suspenseful mystery I expected it to be. The flawed narrative lets the cat out of the bag early on and the tension all runs downhill from there. Thankfully the movie is still operational as a touching drama thanks to its fine cast and a worthwhile story at its core. Anchor Bay delivers a clean video transfer and a flawed but surprisingly dynamic audio track. There's only one special feature on the disc, but it's an hour long and contains plenty of valuable material.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 22nd November 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish,
Extras: The Making of "Sarah's Key"
Easter Egg: No
Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup
Genre: Drama and War
Length: 111 minutes
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