There have been several generations of Holocaust films by now. Most of the films focus on the Nazis and the Germans. But Sarah’s Key the film, based on the best-selling novel by Tatiana de Rosnay gives it to the French.
She takes a true historical event the “Vel’ d’Hiv roundup” of French Jews in Paris in July of 1942 and interweaves it with a contemporary fictional heroine Julia Jarmond, an American ex-pat living in Paris.
Julia (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) writes for an English language magazine in Paris and while writing and research a piece on the anniversary of the roundup discovers that her husband’s family took over the apartment of a family arrested by the French Police.
Through a series of investigations she learns about the family and Sarah the girl who survived and this journey changes her forever.
I’m a big fan of the book (I devoured it) and thought the historical scenes were very realistic and disturbing. The contemporary scenes was where there were problems for me. But it is a film that start Kristin Scott Thomas and even though it does not always live up to her talents, she is as usual always interesting to watch.
Author Tatiana de Rosnay answered some questions (by email) about her book and her thoughts on the film:
Women and Hollywood: How did you make the decision to sell the rights to the film and did you have any control over who made the film?
Tatiana de Rosnay: Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the director, bought the film rights directly from my French publisher and agent, Héloise d’Ormesson. I did have control, but I trusted him from the start. When we met for the first time, he told me about how he “saw” my Sarah. And I went with his vision as it respected my book.
WaH: This is your first book written in English. What made you do that with this book?
TDR: My father is French, and my mother is British and I grew up in France, USA and UK, learning both languages at the same time. This is my first published book in English, but everything I had written between the age of 11 and 25 (unpublished) is in English. For Sarah’s Key, I felt that writing about such a sensitive French subject would be easier for me if I used my “English” side, which gave me a certain distance.
WaH: What inspired you to write the book?
TDR: I wrote this book ten years ago. I have always been interested by how walls can talk. One of my novels (La Mémoire des Murs, the Memory of Walls) describes the rue Nélaton. That is where the Vél d’Hiv roundup took place on July 16th 1942. I realized I didn’t know the exact details of what happened that day. I was not taught about this event at school, during the 70’s. It seemed to be shrouded by taboo. So I started researching. I was appalled by what I discovered concerning the roundup, about what happened to those 4,000 Jewish children, and I knew I had to write about it. But I also knew it could not be a historical novel, it had to have a contemporary feel to it. And that’s how I imagined Julia’s story taking place today, linked to Sarah’s, back in the 40’s.
WaH: How much historical accuracy is in it?
TDR: All the parts concerning 1942 are historically accurate. I read everything I could concerning the round-up. I went to Beaune la Rolande and Drancy, several times. I met Vel d’Hiv survivors, unforgettable moments. Otherwise Julia’s story (and marriage!) is not mine. Sarah also is an invented character but many of my readers are convinced she existed.
WaH: Julia is such an amazing character. How did you come up with her as a device to educate people about a brutal time in France’s history?
TDR: I’m glad you think she is amazing! I felt that I could use Julia’s quest as an objective view point, her being an American journalist living in Paris for the past 20 years. And that’s how I could inform readers, through Julia’s progress in finding Sarah.
WaH: What was your first reaction in seeing the film?
TDR: I cried for about an hour. I was so moved. I still cry when I see it.
WaH: Was there anything left out of the movie that you wished had been there?
TDR: No, there are cuts of course, but I approve of them and think that Gilles Paquet-Brenner did a good job with them.
WaH: Do you have any advice for authors who are considering or trying to sell the rights to their books?
TDR: Go with your gut instinct, if you don’t trust the director, don’t let him adapt your book! But if you do accept to sell the rights, you also have to learn to separate yourself (and your book) from the director’s adaptation, it’s quite tricky to balance…