The Round Up (La rafle) Review
Nazi-occupied France, 1942. On 16 and 17 July, the Nazis carried out a mass arrest of all the Jews resident in France. With the cooperation of the Vichy government and the Parisian police, over 13,000 men, women and children were rounded up in Paris and interned in the the Vélodrome d'Hiver (Vel' d'Hiv for short), an indoor cycle track that had been used for the 1924 Olympics. Conditions there were dreadful: there were no lavatories, only one water tap, and a glass roof made the temperatures unbearably hot. The only food available was brought in by the Quakers and the Red Cross. After five days, the prisoners were transported to internment camps and later to concentration camps. In 1995, French President Jacques Chirac apologised for the role that the French authorities played in this episode.
This is clearly a story whose time has come to be told on screen, as The Round Up (La rafle) written and directed by Rose Bosch is one of two films of 2010 to deal with these events. The other one is Sarah's Key, which I have not seen as I write this. (Joseph Losey's 1976 film Monsieur Klein also touches on the Vel d'Hiv Roundup, but I have not seen that film either.) Sarah's Key is based on a novel, The Round Up makes sure to tell us that every scene and incident in the film is on the historical record., though the Vélodrome and the internment camp at Beaune-La-Rolande were recreated at studios in Budapest. As it happens, some of the characters are composites, notably Jean Reno's character of Jewish doctor David Sheinbaum
The Round Up has a multiplot structure, and is best seen as an ensemble piece. The major part of the story deals with the prisoners, especially eleven-year-old Joseph Weismann (Hugo Leverdez) and his family. (The real Joseph Weismann, now in his eighties, appears as himself in the final scene.) Another major character is Protestant nurse Annette Monod (Mélanie Laurent), who acts as an audience surrogate for some two-thirds of the running time. Top-billed Jean Reno does not appear until about forty minutes in. As well as this, we have shorter scenes involving the Vichy government and also Hitler (Udo Schenk) and his entourage.
Writer/director Bosch clearly has a mainstream audience in mind for this film (and with an opening weekend in France beating Shutter Island it certainly achieved that goal) and there's no doubt it's a well-paced and acted film. Bosch tells her story with considerable efficiency and tact, with only the occasional directorial flourish such as a long-held crane shot inside the Vélodrome. It's certainly moving – how could it not be? However, with its slickness comes a faint whiff of glibness and not-quite-trust. There's an argument beyond the scope of this review as to whether dramatisation is appropriate for a subject such as the Holocaust and whether documentaries such as Shoah and Night and Fog are the only valid ways of treating it. I'm not so sure: a film like The Round Up, which uses the narrative strategies of mainstream commercial cinema will inevitably bring in a larger audience than such documentaries. When those who were there at the time are now quite elderly if they are still alive, events like this one risk being forgotten, and if a film like this can help a nation confront its own wartime guilt that can only be a good thing.
Revolver's release of The Round Up is on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only. There is also a Blu-ray edition. The affiliate links on this review refer to the DVD; for those for the Blu-ray, go here.
The DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 2.40:1 and anamorphically enhanced. This looks as you'd expect a brand-new film on DVD to look: sharp and colourful when it needs to be, with good shadow detail and strong blacks.
The soundtrack, with its mix of French and German dialogue, is available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Surround (2.0). The former has to be the choice, with some effective use of directional sound (gunfire, knocks on doors, a blazing fire), with the subwoofer helping out as necessary. The English subtitles are fixed.
The only extra is a making-of documentary (26:29). This is the usual combination of on-set footage, extracts from the finished film and interviews. Rose Bosch talks about how she had wanted to make a film about the Vél d'Hiv for about five or six years before she was able to, and how she sees the end result as a film about survival rather than as one about death. Also interviewed are producer Ilan Goldman and actors Gad Elmalah, Jean Réno and Mélanie Laurent.
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