Based on the bestselling novel by Tatiana De Rosnay, “Sarah’s Key” jumps back and forth between the past and the present. In Paris 1942, a ten-year-old girl named Sarah (Melusine Mayance) is taken with her parents, along with other Jewish families, by the French police. However, before they were taken away, Sarah locked her younger brother in a bedroom cupboard in order to protect him. In the present, a journalist (Kristen Scott Thomas) is investigating in what happened to Jewish families after they were rounded up. However, her research leads her to discover some secrets that eventually links her to Sarah.
French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner was in town to promote “Sarah’s Key” and I was able to sit down with him at the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach.
Hialeah Movie Examiner: How did you come to do “Sarah’s Key”?
Gilles Paquet-Brenner: Before it became a worldwide bestseller, I read the book when I was living in France in the spring of 2007. I fell in love with the book just like how millions of people around the world. I was able to contact Tatiana and we got along very well from the start.
HME: How difficult was it to adapt the novel into the screenplay?
Paquet-Brenner: I don’t know if you read the book, but it is very well plotted. The characters are very clear and the structure of the story was very interesting. There was one challenge and that was dealing with the two different time periods because how do you keep the film fluid, how do you keep the audience interested and how do you deal with the fact that the two worlds are so different. In one world, you have this little girl who experience horrible and amazing things. In the other world, you have the journalist investigating a mystery that links her to this little girl.
HME: Was there anything in the novel that was slightly different in the movie?
Paquet-Brenner: The movie is very faithful to the book. Tatiana said she loved this movie and all of the fans who loved the book will love this movie. Of course, there has to be some changes. We had to cut some scenes. If there was one thing that is from the book that I would like to put in the film is the part where the little girls get their head shaved at the camps. You could imagine how powerful it would have been, but in the real world, we could not shave Melusine’s head. I am a father and I just could not do that to her.
HME: Which scene was the most difficult scene to shoot?
Paquet-Brenner: It would have to be the scene where the mothers are separated from their children because that was the scene where I put so much pressure on myself because I wanted it to be true to the people who shared that same experience.
HME: What Kristen Scott Thomas originally attached to the project from the get-go?
Paquet-Brenner: Kristen has lived in Paris for 25 years, she is married to a French man and she has three French children. When you see the role she is playing, that is Kristen. You also have to put this in a French perspective. She is very critical for the French audience because she speaks perfect French and most of the people know she lives in Paris. Internationally, she is one of the finest actresses in the world so when you Kristen fits into that role so well, it is a no-brainer.
HME: In terms of looking for the right actress to play the young Sarah, was it an exhaustive audition process?
Paquet-Brenner: We were prepared to have 10,000 little girls audition because the role is so challenging, especially for a little girl. Actually, Melusine was the first choice because she did a movie when she was seven and she was amazing. It is the French equivalent of how Dakota Fanning became a star after starring in “I Am Sam” with Sean Penn.
“Sarah’s Key” opens at Regal South Beach 18 today.