“Sarah’s Key” depicts the life of one of the littlest, terrified 10-year-old Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance, “Ricky“), and her determination to escape the death camps and return home to rescue her little brother, whom she left locked in the closet for his own safety when the jackbooted thugs arrived.
But it is also the story of Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas, “Leaving“), a journalist who, in 2009, moves with her husband and daughter into the very apartment from which the Starzynski family had been uprooted. When Julia learns of its prior ownership, she’s as determined to locate the adult Sarah as the girl was to get back there decades ago.
Based on Tatiana de Rosnay’s 2.5 million-selling novel, director Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s adaptation alters between the two time periods until they eventually intersect. How they do makes “Sarah’s Key” somewhat of a mystery, and a harrowing one at that.
As expected, the radiant Scott Thomas turns in another nuanced performance that feels remarkably genuine; in other words, we don’t catch her “acting” in big, showy moments, which may account for why this hasn’t received much attention, if any, this awards season. Admirably matching her grounded professionalism is Mayance, giving one of the most mature turns by a child actor in recent memory.
The only thing hampering the dramatic heft of the stories’ back-and-forth tidal flow is the present-day introduction of an abortion subplot that seems to exist only to wring a moment of cheap sentimentality in the final scene. Without spoiling what that is, it was a foregone conclusion anyway. —Rod Lott