I loved the book Sarah’s Key (the movie not as much) but it revealed to me another story of the Holocaust and World War Two that I knew nothing about – the Vel’ de’ Hiv’ roundup of Jews in Paris. La Rafle is another take on this told from the perspective of the children and a nurse who took care of them under the most difficult conditions. Melanie Laurent gives a terrific performance as Annette Monod a nurse who does everything she can to help these children all the while not knowing what will happen to them – or to her. It opens in NYC and LA on Friday.
Women and Hollywood: There are so many different stories about the Holocaust. Why did this one move you that you wanted to make a movie about it?
Rose Bosch: Because it involved almost exclusively Jewish children, some not even 2 years old. In France, that story was taboo – so much so that when the story came out, in March 2010, it was the first to tell that story and it became a nationwide debate. It indicates that there was no real knowledge of that tragedy and of the exact involvement of the French government during that period. For too long, France tended to obliterate the collaboration in favor of a more “resistant” vision of our role during WWII.
Also after three years of research I had found extraordinary real life characters that not even the wildest imagination would have been able or would have dared come up with. Especially the escape of two desperate 11 year old children. One was still alive. I found him and he told me his story first hand. That generation is already in their eighties. It was my last chance to tell that story with some people next to me on the day of the release to say: she’s not inventing anything. It all happened.
WaH: Talk a bit about how your film is different from the recent film Sarah’s Key that also uses Vel’ d’ Hiv’ as the jumping off point?
RB: Sarah’s Key is recent for you because it was released before The Round Up in America. But in France, The Round Up was released a year before Sarah’s Key.
The difference is that Sarah’s Key is fiction, I mean its main character, her family story, etc… it’s fictional. When I made this film, Sarah’s Key was not even in production. So it is deliberately and freely that I chose NOT to imagine. Once I heard the real testimonies, or found letters written by Annette Monod, played by Melanie Laurent, or letters from children, I decided it would be obscene not to respect those lives by trying to invent and be smarter than life itself.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge for you in making the film?
RB: To have to sacrifice so many stories. All of them should have been told. Another challenge was to be “fair” to the facts. I mean by that: show the families, and make an audience understand why the Jews could not resist or rebel. It is something that I always found quite unfair: wondering why the Jews never rebelled when deported. I was determined to show that when a gun is pointed at your child’s head, you just obey.
Another challenge was that I decided to show a “deadly summer,” A summer of Petain and the collaborators, going to the horse race and discussing the deportation; of Hitler and Himmler–a few months earlier, negotiating with the French from Hitler’s terrace in Bavaria, of the families trying to survive in Paris as their freedom is shrinking by the hour. But probably the biggest challenge of all was to try to be up to the tragedy, because in our world, those type of collective tragedies are quite far away from our lives and experiences.
WaH: You said in the press notes: “I want to tell about life and not death, because I want to speak for tomorrow and not yesterday.” Can you elaborate?
RB: I wanted to show that unlike what has been told about the Jewish community, they did not accept their fate like cattle. That they fought for their lives. So this was going to show of course how those kids had no chance to survive. But also how anybody who had a chance would try to do so. Like those two boys, Joseph Kogan and Joseph Weismann. I knew that making this film was not going to get them back to life. But there was maybe a chance that the new generation would see it and think “never again”. Or even realize that you must disobey an order, if the order is unfair, or inhuman. Disobedience is not something we are being taught.
WaH: How did you use your journalistic experience in making this film?
RB: It’s been major for me. Very important. First of all, having been a senior writer writing about say, baby smuggling in Sri Lanka, or refugees camps on the Cambodian border in the eighties had shown me that the casualties of war were always children. Mostly children. My generation never experienced (fortunately) that type of collective tragedy, where everybody goes totally crazy and turns the world into a gigantic nightmare. Being a journalist got me to meet with children who had witnessed all their beliefs, all their faith in the world collapse. That is why I chose to try to tell the story through the children’s eyes. I was convinced that adults would realize more what they are capable of doing if it’s shown through children’s eyes.
WaH: Why do you think it is so important to tell this story?
RB: France is going through a really bad period of its history. The extreme right and extreme left represent nearly a third of the voters. The country is divided. It is also the country which has experiences the most horrendous return of anti-Semitism in all of Europe. It just changes faces. I’m not Jewish, but my children bear a Jewish family name and my in laws wore the yellow star in Montmartre. It’s awfully close. My kids’ grandparents were in danger and had to hide. And now some young fanatic guy, born in France, walked recently into a Jewish School and murdered coldly four people, three of which were children between 3 to 7. I think it is important to show that you can lose paradise in a flash. That we are less civilized than we think we are.
WaH: What surprised you the most in making the film?
RB: How serious and understanding the children I worked with were, no matter how old they were. They would come and ask questions. I would not tell the whole horror to them if they were too young — under 12. But they would understand that in this film, they had a “role” to play that was beyond the simple making of a film. I also was relieved to see them get back to laugh and play and run around soon as I had said cut.
WaH: We are now several generations from the Holocaust and there are different types of movies including your film, Sarah’s Key, Lore, In Darkness being made by people who have only learned about the events from interviews and books. These movies to me are so much different from the last generation’s movies which were so much more black and white about good and evil. Have you thought about this? Do you have any comment?
RB: Maybe the last generation was so close from the actual events that there was some kind of guilt, or some kind of anger. I mean “feelings” were getting on the way. You were either outraged or guilty about what had happened. We are different in the sense that we can now consider all this with a sense of peace inside. Also I believe that we lost our innocence about right or wrong. We know we live in a thousand shades of grey. (so to speak)
WaH: What do you want people to get out of the film?
RB: Don’t obey if your heart tells you the order is wrong.
WaH: What’s next for you?
RB: A sweet story set in Provence, where I was born, that tells about family, and what we do to our children by divorcing for a yes or a no. I’ve been with my husband since we were twenty. So it’s clearly not an autobiography. It’s just that it breaks my heart to see how children are emotionally conservative, and what we get them to go through.
WaH: What advice do you have for other female directors?
RB: Never surrender to cynicism, even if you suspect it would get the critics on your side. Activate the “love” option in yourself – the rest will follow suit.
The Round Up opens in New York and Los Angeles on November 16.