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La Rafle: The Round-Up
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La Rafle: The Round-Up – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

It’s June 1942 and the Jews of Paris, wearing yellow stars of David bearing the word “Juif,” are trying to continue with life as normal as their liberties are slowly removed, one by one.
The French authorities in Nazi-occupied Paris have agreed to send Hitler some Jews, to keep him off their backs.
They know the French people won’t accept the round-up of their own citizens to be sent east, so they decide to target stateless Jews, who’d previously fled from the Nazis.
The Germans don’t care about the nationality – stateless is fine by them – but they’re not keen on the French idea of sending children as well as the adults, but the French insist on rounding up children too, as they don’t want the inconvenience of having to look after them when their parents are gone.
One night, the French police are sent into Jewish areas of Paris to round-up as many Jews as they can – aiming for 25,000, they fall well short, as there are plenty of local gentiles who put their own safety at risk by trying to protect their Jewish neighbours.
But thousands of Jews – men and women, young and old – are rounded up and detained at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, in unsanitary conditions, with almost no food or water, for more than a week.
The adults know what is coming but the naïve young children just want to know when the cycling is going to start.
For more than ten thousand people, there’s only one doctor – a Jewish doctor David (Jean Reno) – to treat them, with the assistance of a handful of nurses, including gentile Annette (Mélanie Laurent).
When the detainees re moved on to an out-of-town holding centre, and housed in wooden huts, surrounded by barbed wire, David and Annette join them, but he’s now dressed in the same rags as his Jewish counterparts while she pleads with the guards to secure better conditions for the interns.
Eventually, the children are separated from the adults and group by group, everyone is herded onto trains and sent east to the German concentration camps.
Hope is lost for all but two young boys who are determined to escape.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Anyone unfamiliar with this true story is likely to be shocked on so many levels – that the French authorities were so willing to do Hitler’s work for him – that legal residents should have been rounded-up for no reason other than the way they choose to honour the same God as the French and Germans – that children should have been treated as brutally as the adults, not by the Germans but by the French.
That so many non-Jews – from neighbours to nurses – put themselves on the line to fight the Round-Up presents a life-affirming backbone to the film and shows us that while there were plenty of French people prepared to appease the Nazis for an easy life, there were many who were prepared to challenge the morality of the authorities.
This film isn’t quite sure who to put at its heart. It tells the story both from the point of view of a group of Jewish families we meet at the start and follow through the film, as they at first deny the rumours of an impending round-up and then live with its horrific consequences. But it also tells the story from the point of view of Larent’s nurse. The two sides of the story don’t particularly gel as well as they should into a single, solid narrative.
Reno and Laurent aside, the adults are unknown – or at least little known – outside France and the performances of many of the children are impressive and heartbreaking.
But while this is said to be an historically accurate portrayal of one of wartime France’s most embarrassing moments, it doesn’t work as well as it should as a drama.
This is most likely because of its inevitably linear nature; at every turn, we know what is going to happen next – when they protest that they’ll never be round-up, we know they will as we know the title of the film – when they’re being treated like cattle at the vélodrome – history tells us what will happen to them.
We see the inhuman ways the French treat their civilians-turned-captives but we don’t see the true horrors that await them at the end of their journey to hell. Arguably, we don’t need to see the bodies piled high outside the gas chamber, but without that, it becomes a film about how the Jews were rounded up and herded from A to B.
Actually – this IS a film about the Round-Up rather than the extermination – but while it’s psychologically horrific –so is anything that mentions the Holocaust. That’s not enough to make this a particularly clever film.
Even though this film is about an element of wartime atrocity that few people will know in any detail, what we actually experience with the characters is nothing compared with what we have seen many other characters endure in other films. Children being torn away from their parents in any arena would be traumatic.
In that sense, it’s often shocking but rarely surprising.
And as with most films about the Holocaust, the characterisation is too simplistic – there are the good guys (the victims and their supporters) and the bad guys (the Nazis and their helpers) – there’s no grey. History is black and white – drama is grey.
Consequently, while The Round-Up does work as a dramatic cinematic narrative up to a point, it works better as a history lesson.

opens nationwide 17th June 2011

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