Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Roselyn Bosche
Stars: Jean Reno, Hugo Leverdez, Melanie Laurent, Gad Elmaleh, Udo Schenk.
This powerful and deeply moving film depicts one of the most shocking and shameful episodes of French history.
In the early hours of July 16, 1942 the French police, at the direction of the Nazis, rounded up thousands of Jewish citizens and detained them in appalling conditions in the Paris Velodrome for several days. The detainees were then shipped to a camp outside Paris for a period of time before they were subsequently transported to the extermination camps in Poland. This incident was the backdrop for the recent Sarah’s Key, which starred Kristen Scott Thomas as journalist researching the event for an article sixty years later. But here the subject matter is far more powerful, harrowing and ultimately poignant. A note at the start of the film informs us that all the events depicted here actually happened, even the most extreme.
There is no doubting the anger and disgust felt by writer/director Roselyn Bosche (who wrote 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, etc) at these events. A former investigative journalist, Bosche handles some of the gruesome brutalities and atrocities in an unflinching fashion that heightens their impact on the audience. Bosche has depicted this shameful event with realism, and heart wrenching authenticity that is deeply affecting. Of the 4500 children sent to the camps, none survived, and only 25 adults survived.
Eleven-year old Jo Weismann (Hugo Leverdez) managed to escape from the camp before his family was sent East. Events largely unfold from his perspective, which lends an added poignancy to the material. For the Jews in Nazi occupied Paris, life goes on as normal, even though they are forced to wear the distinctive yellow stars on their clothes, and many shops are off limits to them. We see the lead-up to the round up, as the Germans and the collaborating Vichy authorities carefully formulate their plans.
The film also occasionally cuts away from the hardship endured by the Jews to shots of a smiling and laughing Hitler (Udo Schenk) enjoying his retreat high in the picturesque German Alps. However, these scenes seem like a misjudgment by Bosche, as they contrast markedly with the grim nature of the material. Schenk’s performance as Hitler is more of a caricature than anything, and it grates in a film that otherwise strives for accuracy.
Jean Reno lends his formidable presence to the role of the sympathetic Dr Sheinbaum, who worked amongst the prisoners and was calmly resigned to his fate. Melanie Laurent (from Inglorious Basterds, etc) is also deeply affecting as Annette Monod, a Protestant Red Cross nurse who is appalled by what she witnesses and tries to inform the authorities, to little avail. Gad Elmaleh (better known for comedic roles in films like The Valet, Priceless, etc) is also strong in a rare dramatic role as Weismann’s father Schmuel, whose optimism and faith in the decency of the French people is badly shaken by what happens. Weismann himself appears briefly at the end of the film, and he has praised the film’s authenticity and accuracy.
The Round Up is a highly emotional experience that offers a penetrating insight into this appalling and shameful episode of French history. French involvement in this atrocity was not officially acknowledged until President Chirac formally apologised on the 50th anniversary of the round up. This is a confronting and powerfully moving film not to be missed!