Monday, November 12, 2012

Rose Bosch's Vel’ d’Hiv tale THE ROUND-UP (La Rafle) opens in U.S. theaters at last

It has taken well over two years for the French Holocaust hit La Rafle, known here as THE ROUND-UP, to reach U.S. theaters. TrustMovies first heard of the film via table conversation at the luncheon for the 2010 Rendez-vous with French Cinema, and he has been looking forward to seeing it ever since. Last year another movie, Sarah's Key, dealing with the same subject -- the round-up and imprisonment of Jews in WWII France (both French-born and emigres) into Paris' winter velodrome, the Vel’ d’Hiv -- reached theaters prior to this film and did respectable business -- for an mainstream/art-house, subtitled movie, at least.

Both films are worth seeing, as they bring to the fore an event that, until fairly recent times, France appeared to have forgotten. (Well, of course: the French were too busy adding "The Resistance" to their resumes.) The shame of the event was not so much that Jews were stripped of their rights and finally their lives -- in what country conquered by the Nazis did the populace not do the German's bidding? -- but that the Vel’ d’Hiv round-up was all done by the French and their police, under German's orders, of course, and in some cases rather too gleefully.

In Sarah's Key, this event is pivotal, though the movie embraces present times and past, and offers a look at how the Holocaust moved across several generations, taking its toll. La Rafle sticks mostly to the event itself, and then its immediate aftermath, as the French Jews were taken to holding camps until which time they could be shipped to the German concentration camps and gassed. Writer/
director Rose Bosch (shown at right), whose excellent sophomore effort this film is, proves particularly good with the small, telling details that make up the larger canvas.

The filmmaker sets her story initially in one apartment complex, amidst the lively, noisy, mostly Jewish families, although the owner (or maybe she's the concierge) is not a Jew. We get far enough into the lives of these people -- where they shop, whom they deal with, where they work and play -- to appreciate and care for them. By the time the event happens, we're hooked.

While there were, of course, many antisemitic French, Bosch is scrupu-lous in showing us how, though many people turned against the Jews, many others offered what help they could. (The statistics at the close of the film, if they are to be believed, indicate that the caring French populace -- including priests, teachers, firemen, neighbors and friends -- saved more than 10,000 lives that would have been snuffed out, had not these people hidden and protected the Jews from the round-up.)

In a very large cast, two roles stand out: the Jewish doctor, played by the stalwart Jean Reno, above, who ministers unto the sick and dying at both the stadium and in the after-facility, and the Protestant nurse who helps him (a lovely Mélanie Laurent, below).

Other well-known actors, like Gad Elmaleh (below, right, often seen in comedies such as Priceless and The Valet), Sylvie Testud and Anne Brochet, do terrific jobs in their respective roles, too.

Bosch avoids a lot of bloodshed, gore and violence, while keeping them suggested, just under the surface. (We've seen them all by now, and over and over, in any case.)  What she can't do, or perhaps did not want to, is avoid a rather sentimental and certainly feel-good finale. I was in tears, I admit it, but simultaneously, I was questioning the film-making wisdom of taking this route.

Well, movies do have to end, and audiences want endings that make them at least somewhat happy. You'll get that here, and you'll also get a good French history lesson. The Round-Up/La Rafle, from Menemsha Films and running 124 minutes, opens this Friday throughout the New York and Los Angeles areas (as well as in Laguna and Palm Desert), Arizona and Ohio. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters (and their web sites) listed.

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