Exactly 69 years to the day since the Vel d’hiv roundup, when French police arrested 13,000 Jews and sent them off to Auschwitz, I moderated a Q-and-A with “Sarah’s Key” director Gilles Paquet-Brenner at the Museum of Tolerance. The film, based on Tatiana de Rosnay’s bestselling novel (which sold 5 million copies in 38 countries) tells the story of the Vel d’hiv roundup, the ultimate in French collaboration with the Nazis.
The film could be counted as one of the most powerful Holocaust films to date. The Hollywood Reporter called it “transfixing.” Writer Kirk Honeycutt wrote, “Cinema can sometimes rival the novel in compulsive intensity and Sarah’s Key is one such example.”
There are haunting, wrenching scenes in this film that can hold up to the best of those in “Schindler’s List”, “Shoah” and “Night and Fog”. With this, the 36-year-old Paquet-Brenner proves himself a significant talent (he’s sort of like a French Jason Reitman, only with a penchant for high drama).
In person, the French filmmaker was thoughtful and clever, occasionally feisty and incredibly gracious with audience members who lined after the screening up to share their survival stories with him.
During the Q-and-A, Paquet-Brenner discusses his personal connections to the story and the Holocaust, his opinion on Hollywood’s ‘Holocaust fatigue’ and the atmosphere on set when filming the most harrowing scenes.
“Sarah’s Key” opens in Los Angeles on July 22.
**Note: Apologies for the poor quality of the video as Carmageddon kept our very valuable VideoJew Jay Firestone from recording the event (sound is good, though!). In Part 1, my opening question for Paquet-Brenner was how he convinced Tatiana de Rosnay, the book’s author, to let him direct the film. She reportedly met him and exclaimed, “You’re 12!” doubting he could handle the serious subject matter.
In Part 2, I opened by asking about the formal techniques he used to evoke the horrifyingly visceral scenes of the roundup and at the camps.
More on the film’s background at The Ticket, where you can read Naomi Pfefferman’s wonderful piece on the journey from book to film.