Isn’t it a little early in the year for producer Harvey Weinstein to already be grubbing for Oscars with a Holocaust melodrama?
Playing a bit like The Reader minus the Skinemax After Dark trappings that almost made it bearable, here’s another highfalutin, dramatically moribund literary adaptation exploiting unspeakable atrocity for cheap prestige. Kristin Scott Thomas stars as a flinty American journalist who relocates to Paris with her dullard, bourgeoisie French husband and brat teenage daughter, immediately growing suspicious of their recently inherited to-die-for downtown flat. A bit of rudimentary detective work suggests that Thomas’ new digs may perhaps have been occupied by a Jewish family before the “evacuation” of 1942, so she spends the picture fretting that her in-laws just might be war criminals. Or at the very least, they were unscrupulous apartment-hunters.
Flashbacks occupy the second narrative track, during which young Sarah (Mélusine Mayance) stashes her toddler brother in a secret bedroom closet just before the whole family is ousted by the Gestapo. Our plucky youngster stops at nothing trying to escape the camps, boasting the titular key and a delusional notion that the mewling tyke hopefully hasn’t starved to death by the time she gets back to Paris.
Working from a novel by Tatiana deRosnay, director Gilles Paquet-Brenner shamelessly milks the cliffhanger elements so that with every renovation in the modern-day sequences we’re expecting a child’s skeleton to turn up behind the drywall. The concentration camp scenes are sanitized for middlebrow, Lifetime movie effectiveness—all of the horrors carefully arranged to occur just outside the frame.
Scott Thomas brayingly over-plays every emotion, often accompanied by a Greek chorus of numbskull 20somethings who have no knowledge of world history and thus must endure tireless expository lectures about the horrors of World War II. Sarah’s Key brutally rambles on for over an hour after the resolution of its central mystery, stopping time for a stunning cameo by Adian Quinn that belongs in the Bad Acting Hall Of Fame.
The staggering, inadvertently campy ending reveals Sarah’s Key as a Shoah-infused Eat Pray Love, with the massacre of millions a brief detour on a bitchy magazine writer’s journey toward inane self-actualization.