Starring: Gad Elmaleh, Melanie Laurent, Hugo LeverJean Reno, Udo Schenk.
Runtime: 120 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
There have been many films made about the Holocaust, in which more than six million Jews were rounded up and exterminated in death camps especially constructed to house and despatch people in vast numbers. Most of these films have been made for educative reasons, especially the spate of Hollywood films made for cinema and television from the 1970s onwards.
More recent films such as The Pianist, Life is Beautiful, Good and The Reader use the Holocaust not just as a means of educating people about this hellish event, but to explore from multiple perspectives notions of good and evil, individual and collective culpability, and whether humankind is redeemable.
In the aftermath of World War 2, the German philosopher and essayist Theodor Adorno believed that silence is the only appropriate response to the tragedy of the Holocaust. This is the view today of many survivors and their families who feel that films such as Life is Beautiful, The Boy in the Pink Pyjamas and The Reader either traduce the sanctity of the Holocaust, or seek in some way to exculpate the nation responsible for it.
Roselyn Bosch’s gruelling but engrossing The Round Up is a valiant and mostly successful attempt to do two things: educate cinema audiences about the rounding up of the Jews in a Paris Velodrome in July 1942, an event not widely known about outside France, and to appraise the response of the French to this forced evacuation and subsequent murder of their friends and neighbours, both individually and as a nation.
Bosch based her screenplay on the true life story of Joseph Weismann, an 11 year-old Jewish boy who together with his family was rounded up by the French Police under the orders of General Petain and the Nazi invaders, and crammed along with 13,000 other Parisian Jews into the Winter Velodrome for five days, without food, water or access to toilets, before being sent first to an internment camp in Loiret, then on to Auschwitz.
Several very fine performances bring conviction and emotional realism to the film’s characters, many of them real people: Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) as the Protestant nurse Annette Monod, who chooses to accompany the Jewish children to Loiret, and suffers their privations as if they were her own; Hugo Leverdez who plays the 11 year-old Joe Weismann; Gad Elmaleh as Joe’s left-wing father Schmuel; and Adele Exarchopoulos as Anna Traube, a wealthy neighbour of the Weismanns who escapes from the Velodrome and survives.
Jean Reno (Nikita, The Professional) brings presence to the composite character Dr Sheinbaum, a Jewish doctor at the Velodrome whose destiny is tied to the women and children, and to Annette.
The recent film Sarah’s Key (2011), which also depicts the Paris round up, brings relief to the full horror of the event and later internment and transportation to the death camps, by moving backwards and forwards in time in the manner of a mystery thriller.
The Round Up to its credit honours the victims of the Nazis and the collaborating members of the Vichy government, by documenting with power and accuracy the calculated cruelties endured by innocent men, women and children. At the same time, it salutes those non-Jewish French who supported their friends, neighbours’, and sometimes strangers, even though in most cases this support was reduced to only a gesture, by the reach and power of the Third Reich.
A singular exception to this general intimidation of the French public is shown by the compassionate action of French firemen, who defy French authorities by supplying water to the Velodrome inmates.
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