'Sarah's Key' review: Not really about Sarah or her key

** (out of four)

Do you like movies that constantly bounce back and forth between the past and present? Here’s another one: Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas) suspects that the apartment she’s about to move into was once owned by Jews who were deported by the French in 1942, and in flashbacks the movie shows that’s exactly the case.
 
The buzz: Am I the only one who would love to see Thomas shake things up and do a movie that isn’t always so serious? (Same to you, DiCaprio.) Though for what it’s worth, if you’re going to adapt the novel by Tatiana De Rosnay, you could do a lot worse than casting Thomas or Niels Arestrup (so great in “A Prophet”), who appears as a compassionate Frenchman.
 
The verdict: If only “Sarah’s Key” stuck with its title character, who locks her little brother in a secret closet to protect him from her captors and must escape to try to save him. The film’s structure of alternating between time periods takes the urgency out of the past, while the present never had any to begin with. (Can Julia find out the truth before she moves?!) “Sarah’s Key” feels like “Julie and Julia” in that half the time you wish you were watching the other storyline, though nothing here has any mystery or depth to it. Earlier this year “Incendies” presented a spectacular story about painful family truths and what they signify on a larger scale. “Sarah’s Key” would rather show how Julia selfishly obsesses her way into another family’s life as a way of distracting herself from her own conflict with her husband. Needless to say, that has nothing to do with the Holocaust, which, by film’s end, comes close to being treated as manipulative context for a superficial tale about something else.
 
Did you know? One character describes the French’s treatment of the Jews as being like what happened in the Superdome in New Orleans, only a million times worse. Gotta say: When it comes to horrible situations faced by people who deserved so much better—whether the problem was caused by people or weather—it’s not a competition.
 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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