It’s tricky for a writer to accept a director’s vision of her book, but I had decided to put my trust in Gilles Paquet-Brenner from the start. When he explained “his” vision of “my” Sarah, it was so thrilling and he was so clearly excited at the prospect. And then there was Serge Joncour, a loyal friend and talented novelist, and I knew that a new Sarah would be reborn through his vision.
I read the script. I liked it. It has to be said that we writers always find a script a bit dry, lacking in descriptions and nuances. You have to factor in the actors’ performances. I hadn’t learned to do that, but I saw that Serge and Gilles had respected my book. They hadn’t radically changed anything.
Then the adventure of the shoot began. The unforgettable encounter with Mélusine Mayance, who plays Sarah. I can still see her coming towards me with her yellow star on her chest, her pert little face and big bright eyes. My Sarah! An intense and almost unreal moment. And then later, Kristin Scott Thomas as Julia Jarmond. I’m an extra in a scene with her – that was another magical memory that will be engraved in my mind forever.
Then the day I saw the movie for the first time, with Serge. I’m apprehensive, scared I’ll be disappointed. Scared I won’t recognize “my” Sarah. The first ten minutes are a blur, I can’t break out of my novel. I force myself and suddenly I’m immersed in the movie. I fall in love with the film. And at the end, watching the final scene, an incredible wave of emotion overwhelms me, and I start crying. Yes, I cried.
The film is restrained, like the book. There’s no pathos, no mawkishness. Kristin Scott Thomas gives a wonderful performance as an American journalist who wants to know the truth at all costs. Michel Duchaussoy is spot-on and amazingly moving as Edouard Tézac. Gisèle Casadesus as Mamé enchants me. Niels Arestrup as Jules Dufaure charms me with his gruff affection. Aidan Quinn and his intense gaze just overwhelm me. All the actors have their place in the movie – Frédéric Pierrot, Dominique Frot, Natasha Mashkevich – and in the heart of this novelist because they have become my characters on screen.
Gilles Paquet-Brenner has captured the emotion I wanted to share with my readers when I wrote the book. The portrait of a woman who opens Pandora’s box. The heartrending image of a little girl whose life is shattered. A man who knew nothing of his mother. The taboo, sixty years on, surrounding one of the darkest moments in our history. Thank you, Gilles.
About the Story
Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas), an American journalist married to a Frenchman, is commissioned to write an article about the notorious Vel d’Hiv round up, which took place in Paris, in 1942. She stumbles upon a family secret which will link her forever to the destiny of a young Jewish girl, Sarah. Julia learns that the apartment she and her husband Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand’s family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before.
She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers – especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive – the more she uncovers about Bertrand’s family, about France and, finally, herself.
Sarah’s Key (French: Elle s’appelait Sarah) is a French drama directed and co-written by Gilles Paquet-Brenner and an adaptation of the novel with the same title by Tatiana de Rosnay. The film follows a journalist’s present-day investigation into the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of Jews in German-occupied Paris in 1942.
It tells the story of a young girl’s experiences during and after these events, illustrating the participation of the French bureaucracy as well as French citizens hiding and protecting Sarah from the French authorities. The film alternates between Sarah’s life in 1942 and the journalist researching the story in 2009.
Directed by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frédéric Pierrot, Michel Duchaussoy
Screenplay by: Tatiana De Rosnay, Serge Joncour, Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Production Design byB Françoise Dupertuis
Cinematography by: Pascal Ridao
Film Editing by: Hervé Schneid
Costume Design byB Eric Perron
Music by: Max Richter
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing situations involving the Holocaust.
Studio: Anchor Bay Films, The Weinstein Company
Release Date: July 22nd, 2011