the infamous Winter Velodrome no longer stands in Paris. Yet, perversely, cycling races were still
held in the venue as late as 1958, well after it served as a temporary holding
facility for 13,000 Jewish Parisians, forcibly “rounded up” at the request of
the occupying National Socialists. It
was an episode of history France preferred to forget, since it was the Vichy
authorities doing the rounding-up. While
the actual event went scrupulously undocumented, Rose Bosch dramatizes the
tragic events in La Rafle (The Round Up),
which opens this Friday in New York (trailer here).
fatality rate of those imprisoned in the Velodrome was nearly one hundred
percent. Viewers will have no illusions
where the captives are ultimately headed, but those in the Velodrome held out
hope their next accommodations would be better.
We come to meet many of the roughly detained, including children like Joseph
Weismann and his friends, the Zygler brothers.
While they used to run free through the streets of Montmartre, the boys suddenly
find themselves enduring the heat and inadequate water and sanitation of the
Velodrome. Fellow prisoner Dr. David
Sheinbaum is the sole extent of the medical treatment available until the
arrival of solitary Protestant charity nurse Annette Monod.
on years of research, Bosch takes pains to show both the good and bad sides of
the French national character. While the
Weismann’s anti-Semitic neighbors cheer their deportation, the Parisian fire
department reacts with shock and empathy, struggling to improve conditions in
the Velodrome, against the gendarmerie’s express wishes.
who have seen Sarah’s Key or read the
novel on which it is based will be familiar with the 1942 Roundup. Designer Olivier Raoux’s recreated Velodrome has
the look and feel of a real life, slightly past its prime building, collapsing
under the weight of its involuntary guests.
Bosch’s scenes within its confines have a visceral you-are-there impact. However, the intermittent depictions of
Hitler and the craven Petain lack the same power, only serving as a wan
indictment of their banal evil.
a bit of a surprise, it is Jean Reno who masterfully serves as the film’s moral
center, portraying Dr. Sheinbaum with a profound spirit of world weary
humanity. The impossible romantic
tension that develops between him and Mélanie Laurent’s Monod is also deeply
touching. That sense of “if only thing
were different” palpably hangs in the air between them as they labor to ease the
suffering around them as best they can.
List, there have been a number of well-meaning dramas that have addressed
the Holocaust, with varying degrees of success.
La Rafle ranks as one of the
more accomplished due to its technical
merit and Reno’s assured anchoring performance.
Recommended for connoisseurs of French cinema and WWII films, it opens
this Friday (11/16) in New York at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: French Cinema, Holocaust Cinema, Jean Reno