A teen perspective on ‘Sarah’s Key’

Kristin Scott Thomas and Aidan Quinn star in ‘Sarah’s Key.’

By Mia Kweskin, Special to the Jewish Light

Editor’s note: Mia Kweskin is a member of the Jewish Light’s Ohr Chadash teen staff and an aspiring movie critic who attended an early screening of “Sarah’s Key.” She firmly believes the film is a must-see for all teens. Look for Ohr Chadash monthly in the Light, beginning again with the Sept. 14 issue.


Journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) won’t let the story of young Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance) be forgotten. Julia goes beyond a magazine assignment about the 60th anniversary of the Velodrome d’hiver (Vel’ d’hiv) roundup in Paris to uncover what really happened to Sarah, a Holocaust survivor, in the captivating film, “Sarah’s Key.”

Based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, “Sarah’s Key” intertwines two stories, one that takes place in the present and one that takes place in the past. In the midst of moving into a new apartment in Paris, Julia discovers that her father-in-law Edouard Tezac (Michel Duchaussoy), a former tenant of the apartment, may be hiding something about its history. Through research for her article on the horrific killing of 13,000 French Jews, Julia uncovers the harsh and disturbing but truly moving tale of one of the apartment’s former occupants, Sarah Starzynski.

The movie floats back and fourth with ease from Julia’s desperate present day search for information to 1942, and the living nightmare that has taken hold of Sarah. In the beginning images of the film, we see her as a carefree, innocent youngster, yet within moments, she and her parents are taken by French police to the massive Vel’ d’hiv stadium, where they are forced to huddle with thousands of others Jews amid deplorable conditions.

Not knowing where she is being taken and hoping to protect her little brother, Sarah naively locks him in a closet. She takes the key with her, promising to return before long. But Sarah is gone for longer than she expected, as she is separated from both of her parents and sent to a concentration camp. With the key always in her palm, Sarah never forgets her brother trapped inside that closet.

Despite her young age, Mélusine Mayance she does an absolutely astonishing job portraying Sarah. Mayance imbues the character with such raw emotionality; in doing so, she allows audiences to gain a better understanding of the horror seen by a Jewish child during the Holocaust.

Kristen Scott Thomas, too, is excellent as the passionate, inquisitive journalist Julia driven to unlock the mystery of the girl she is convinced escaped from a concentration camp.

Audiences will be overwhelmed with emotion from the touching story that “Sarah’s Key” tells. While most of us are used to hearing about the German abuse of the Jews, this film gives us a different look as it shows French cruelty and a little-known historical event that is difficult to comprehend. “Sarah’s Key” reminds us of another tragedy in Jewish history that must never be forgotten, through a potent story of strength and survival.