My Alliance Française French Film Festival 2011 experience concluded with The Round Up (La Rafle) – a powerful movie about the Jewish Vel d’Hiv round-up. Subsequently, this is also the theme of a movie that I saw last year, Sarah’s Key – a drama which fictionalises the event which revolves around a cupboard key.
The Round Up, directed by Roselyne Bosch, starts with the calm before the storm – how the Jews assimilated with the Parisians and considered the city as their refuge although they already had to wear the yellow Star of David badge on their chest. With Hitler getting impatient with the French Vichy’s inaction, the deportation of the Jews was made into a bargaining point between the Hitler regime and the French Vichy’s government. The government agreed to round up 24,000 Jews who were stateless – refugees from Poland, Austria, Czech and other countries – to be interned and deported. The chosen date was July 16th, 1942 at 4.00am – two days after Bastille Day.
The film focuses on a couple of key families: the Weismanns family who fled Poland years before to resettle in Paris and the Zyglers – with the father absent, having fled to the free zone. Along with thousands of Jews – including seniors and children, they had to indure the inhumane condition at Vel d’Hiv, unknowing of the fate that awaited. A compassionate nurse – Annette Monod, played beautifully by Mélanie Laurent – tried her best to care for the Jews alongside the doctor, played by Jean Reno. Annette even opted to go with the Jews to care for them in the Beaune-la-Rolande detention camp. I have since learned that Annette Monod is actually a real person who died in 1995.
Watching The Round Up is like being continuously emotionally punched – especially half way through the movie – as I had to endure watching the treatment and the cruelty that the Jews had to endure. Admittedly, the movie is a bit sentimental towards the end, but with the emotional barrier broken earlier, I let myself immersed in the emotions, especially towards the end with an ending that softens the story a bit. It does not trivilialise nor negate the fact that the Vel d’Hiv round-up is an ugly act of cowardice by the Vichy government to hand over the Jews over to the Germans. I wish there had been more ‘happy endings’ with reunited families came together after the war – but we know the fact that many families perished. The sweet ending reminds us again that this is still a movie – that although it is very much based on a real incidence – some creative writing has been added to shield us from the true horror.
The Round Up will be released on May 5th in Australia.
There is one scene in the movie that leaves a mark in my mind – when Annette first met the doctor at Vel d’Hiv, the doctor saw the cross pendant that she was wearing. He asked her whether she was a Protestant, to which she confirmed and then responded, “Je crois encore”.
I still believe.