Crying and laughing about the holocaust?

Movie Reviews

The Names of Love

Starring Sara Forestier, Directed by Michel Leclerc

2011, 102 minutes, rated R

Sarah’s Key

Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, starring Kristin Scott Thomas

2011, 111 minutes, rated PG

Something horrible happened in Nazi occupied Paris in 1942, the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup [a Nazi decreed raid and mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police in July of 1942]. Over 13,000 French people were rounded up by other Frenchmen. After some very ugly treatment in France, they eventually went one-way to the Auschwitz for extermination.

At one of the art theaters in Dallas, two movies, a tragedy and a comedy, both center on that event. Both of them even include scenes in the Paris memorial where the names of the victims are etched.

Tempestuous Sara Forestier dominates the comedy, The Names of Love. She plays a distinctly unique young woman with a unique name who bamboozles and, eventually, falls in love with an older, uptight man with the most common name in France. He is uptight because his family fanatically avoids any words or actions that might remind them that his grandparents were taken, never to return, in the 1942 roundup.

We’ve seen this plot device many times before: a “free spirit” younger woman completely upends the life of a straight-laced older man. We might have seen it before, but not with so many twists and never with so much passion.

Sara Forestier, a force of nature, doesn’t just unsettle the men she encounters. She scoops up their molecules like a giant blender, whirls them around and then reconstitutes them as other people. In fact, remolding rightwing men into soft, gentle liberals is her political purpose!

Actress Kirsten Scott-Thomas is the centerpiece of the tragic movie Sarah’s Key . It would be difficult to be more serious, more somber, about the Paris deportations of 1942. As a dedicated journalist, she traces the life of a young girl who was deported with her family. Piece by piece, she learns what happened to the girl and how her later life pays for the trauma she suffered.

We’ve seen this plot device before, too. Someone accidentally comes across a small fact or two about the holocaust and traces it into the full horror of what human beings are capable of doing to one another.

Why two movies at roughly the same time? We’ve all heard the expression, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!” It may be that a tragedy plus a comedy is the only way that Parisians can describe their feelings about what happened under Nazi occupation. Maybe it takes both?

At any rate, they made two pretty good, well acted and well directed, movies. My movie buddy and I liked them. We just don’t recommend seeing them both in the same theater on the same weekend.

Photo: Still from Sarah’s Key