Title: LA RAFLE (The Roundup)
Director: Rose Bosch
Screenwriter: Rose Bosch
Cast: Jean Reno, Mélanie Laurent, Gad Elmaleh, Hugo Leverdez
Screened at: Broadway, NYC, 8/23/12
Opens: October 5, 2012
Many people are aware that the Holocaust was perpetrated on Jews by Germany but not so many realize that the roundups could not have been so efficient if the Germans did not have help from people in the occupied territories. Perhaps the worst case of collaboration between Germans and locals was that involving the French police, whose rationalization may have been that they were following orders of the people in authority but in reality could have refused to obey calls to meet quotas set in Berlin.
Rose Bosch’s “La Rafle,” or “The Roundup,” is one of the many Holocaust films that are simplistic; usable, perhaps, as part of a European History 101 course or shown even in middle school since it involves a series of events seen from the point of view of children. “La Rafle” deals primarily with the way the French police struggled to meet quotes of Jews whose arrests were demanded, while the film shows the effect on kids whose ages are five to eleven. Understandably they are even more confused than the adults, their principal anxieties raised when separated from their parents. Little known to the young folks is that the train that eventually took them to the Auschwitz camp in Poland meant immediate extermination.
Though the film employs the youths’ point of view, “La Rafle” is more realistic than Mark Herman’s “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” which is more of a fantasy, positing long conversations between the young son of the camp commandant and a prisoner of the same age on the other side of barbed wire. At the same time, it is more realistic than Robert Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful,” which shows the young son of a man who is ultimately shot as though he were an inmate of the same camp living with his dad.
Rose Bosch, who wrote the script in addition to directing the action, shows us every humiliation that the Jews faced in 1942, from the forced wearing of stars, the banning of Jews from playgrounds, the medical and legal professions, from teaching, from concert halls and park benches. At about four on the morning of July 16, 1942, the French police storm areas of Jewish population expecting to meet the Nazi quota of 22,000, though they rounded up “only” 13.152. To the credit of the French, many risked their lives by taking in and hiding Jews. The unlikely ones were hustled into the Winter Velodrome (photographed in this film in Hungary to represent the actual stadium), remaining there for five days without food or water. One French fireman becomes a hero by bringing in hoses and filling the cups of the parched prisoners to their cheers. (Nine thousand extras were hired by the company to fill the stadium grounds.)
A few Jews and one Protestant nurse are highlighted. Hugo Leverdez, twelve years old at the time of the filming, takes the role of Jo, the son of Schmuel (Gad Elmaleh) and his wife Sura (Raphaëlle Agogué), who escapes with a friend, crawls under barbed wire, and apparently lives in the forest for the remainder of the war. Alive today in his early eighties, Jo Weisman appears later as himself. Others, not so lucky, are herded from the Vel D’Hiv, or Winter Velodrome, to a French camp at Beaune-La-Rolande, then pushed onto trains to take them to Poland. Some will survive for at least a few months, but women and children perished almost immediately. Jean Reno performs as a Jewish doctor who did what he could under the most trying circumstances, while the major role goes to Mélanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”) as a Protestant nurse, Annette Monod, who ate only the rations afforded to the Jews in order to awaken the conscience of Frenchmen in power to the plight of innocent victims.
The film, which opens with archival celluloid of Hitler gazing with joy at the Eiffel Tower, is marred by cliché, as he is portrayed unconvincingly by Udo Schenk who does not look the part nor does Thomas Darchinger as Heinrich Himmler. Though some French had heroically hidden Jews, the film makes the guilty collaboration of the countrymen clear.
Unrated. 115 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B