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'La Rafle' review: A Holocaust story

Children cry as they were being held in

Children cry as they were being held in a train from the movie "The Round Up" (2010) ("La rafle" is the original title), directed by Rose Bosch. Credit: Legende Films

In the French import "La Rafle (The Round Up)," writer-director Rose Bosch imbues her characters with dignity, humanity and hope, so much so that she seems to have lost sight of the fact that she's making a Holocaust film. In 1942, France sold out its Jews to appease Hitler, rounding up 13,000 and holding them in the Vel' d'Hiv sports hall in Paris before they were sent to the camps. Dignity, humanity and hope had very little to do with any of it. But nearly 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, filmmakers (see: "Schindler's List," "Life Is Beautiful," even "Inglourious Basterds") seem to want to make the Final Solution into something other than what it was, and give it qualities it didn't have.

What it didn't have is the cosmetic gloss Bosch applies, casting her well-made and certainly heart-tugging movie with beautiful, and beautifully defiant, French people who somehow thought they could ride out the terrors of Nazism, and wait for the war to end. In this, "La Rafle" is on to something universal, namely denial.

But had the sunny landscapes and inspiring characters degenerated into something truly horrible, the effect might have been nightmarish and thus appropriate. There is brutality in "La Rafle," certainly, and a sense of horror, but the utter hopelessness experienced by European Jewry is never hinted at, and in its way this betrays the Holocaust story.

It is unfortunate because if not for its fact-based handicap, the film is well-made and affecting. Melanie Laurent ("Beginners") gives an inspiring performance as a gentile nurse who goes along to treat the prisoners and their children on their journey to the death camps; Jean Reno, monument of French cinema, is just right as the overwhelmed Jewish doctor trying to single-handedly treat 13,000 doomed patients. The hero is plucky, real-life Jo Weissman (Hugo Leverdez), who makes a break for it after losing his mother (the beautiful Raphaëlle Agogué), lives to a ripe old age and helps make the viewer forget what really happened.

PLOT Fact-based drama about the 1942 Paris police roundup of 13,000 French Jews and their confinement in the Vel' d'Hiv bicycle arena. (In French, German and Yiddish with English subtitles)

RATING Not rated

CAST Melanie Laurent, Jean Reno, Raphaëlle Agogué


BOTTOM LINE Sturdy, sweeping, emotional, well-acted drama, but the fact that it's a Holocaust story makes it problematic. 

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