France seems to be feeling a little shame. It should.
A little more than a year ago, "Sarah's Key" arrived in theaters, a fine film about the French roundup and imprisonment of Jews in Paris in 1942. And now comes "La Rafle," on the same subject -- an issue the French government didn't even acknowledge until the '90s.
Whereas "Sarah's Key" was chiefly about the impact of one woman's moral nightmare, "La Rafle" ("The Roundup") is more epic in scale. It is also based on the true story of 11-year-old Joseph Weismann (Hugo Leverdez), one of thousands of children who were taken along with their parents.
3 stars = Good
- Starring: Jean Reno, Melanie Laurent.
- Rating: No MPAA rating but deals with mature content.
In July 1942, French officials, working at the direction of their Nazi overlords, raided Jewish homes in Paris. Jews were already forced to wear yellow stars on their clothes in public, and they were banned from places such as parks. They unknowingly were being prepped for transfer to death camps in the east.
The film follows neighbors the Weismanns and the Zyglers as they are transported to a huge cycling arena along with 13,000 others.
They spend days starving in the stifling heat there, wondering when they're going to be sent home, worrying over missing friends and relatives, gagging at the stench of overflow sewage.
Into this nasty mess comes Protestant nurse Annette Monod (Melanie Laurent), assigned to help the one Jewish doctor, David Sheinbaum (Jean Reno), trying to care for the crowd.
Appalled at the conditions and criminality of the enterprise, Monod decides to stay with the families when they are sent off to prison camps. And the horrors never cease to mount.
Writer-director Rose Bosch is working in unabashed historical epic mode here, balancing individual stories with grand-scale awfulness effectively. She never swerves for cheap sentiment, she just lays it all out.
Mankind has been trying to purge itself of the horrors of the Holocaust for going on 70 years now; apparently it is France's turn now to look back in anguish and disgust.
But as a reminder, it has universal impact.
In French, German and Yiddish with English subtitles. Opens today at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill.