La Rafle

| October 6, 2012

There is always a story to tell from the Holocaust. Whether it be survival or sacrifice, viewers are always thankful such horrific times are over.  Always a fan of French cinema, I was eager to review La Rafle or The Round Up.   And with French greats Melanie Laurent and Jean Reno in lead roles, how could I go wrong?

La Rafle follows a community of imprisoned Parisian Jews in the middle of World War II.  Rounded up from their homes by decree of the French government, collaborating with the Nazis of course, thousands of Jewish citizens were forced into a stadium.  With little food or water, the captured feared the future.  David, a Jewish doctor, and Annette, a nurse from the Red Cross, attempt to help, but to no avail.  When the Jews are moved to a hard labor camp they decide to follow.

Behind barbed wire fences the abuse only gets worse.  There is even less to eat or drink and no room to sleep.  To make matters worse David is now imprisoned with the Jews and Annette is overwhelmed by patients. Uncertainty and fear cause public beatings at the camp.  To add insult to injury, the French government decides to separate the children from their parents.

At the children’s camp, Annette knows time is of the essence.   With no one to help, she alone must stand up against the oppressors.  Annette ambushes the hospital warden for help and food for the children, but is brushed off.  Overworked, the nurse collapses while helping one of the children; her health is failing. With the prospect of an uncertain future, Annette knows dangerous tactics are the only means for survival.

Reno plays David, the stoic Jewish doctor.   As with all of his performances, the actor carries himself with an aggressive French grace.  Though little screen time, his parts are memorable.  Reno’s calm demeanor balances well with his counterpart’s theatrics.  Laurent is the sacrificing Red Cross nurse, Annette.  With a cloaked head resembling the strong female teacher character, the actress reminds us why she could be a star, even if only in appearance.  Throughout the film, Laurent becomes excessively exhausting to watch, ultimately resulting in soap opera.  This is less to blame on her and more director/writer Rose Bosch.

A subject like the Holocaust should never feel like pandering.  Sadly, when put in the hands of clumsy directors, gratuitous dramatics are always visible.  The scales never tilt the right way for Bosch.  The first half has style over substance, while part two is opposite.  With such shallow uses of morality, La Rafle suffers from a true hero or villan.

Everyone involved in the making of a film should ask,  “What story are we trying to tell?”  The French collaboration with the Nazis has long been a sore spot in the country and cinematic subject for masters like Claude Chabrol and Marcel Ophlus, son of acclaimed director Max Ophlus.  What differs with La Rafle is the lack of depth.  Holocaust films should reminds viewers why such a time should never be repeated-not techniques & tales we’ve seen over and over again.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
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