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French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who’s spent more than a decade within the movie industry creating suspenseful dramas, recreated Tatiana de Rosnay’s best-seller “Sarah’s Key” as a heart-breaking film depicting Paris’ notorious 1942 Vel d’Hiv Roundup and its aftermath. After gaining international recognition for “Pretty Things” in 2001, “Gomez & Talvarez, La Suite” in 2007 and “Walled In” in 2009, Paquet-Brenner branched out from his traditional genre to co-write and direct a film adaptation of the historical fiction novel. The following is a question-and-answer with Paquet-Brenner regarding his latest movie, which will premiere in Houston on July 29.
Q. What inspired you to direct “Sarah’s Key?”
A. It is based on the best-selling novel, and when I read it, I loved it. I love the great details the book describes and especially being able to have the opportunity to depict those details in the film from a French perspective of the roundup to a wide audience. Another thing that attracted me from the book is that you have this controversial point of view of history. Usually younger generations, like high school kids, are not that interested in history, because it is old and far away from their everyday lives. I think it is interesting to have a book and movie showing that a story can affect the everyday life of today.
Q. Having a Jewish background and being French, what is your personal reaction towards the events that occurred during the Vel d’Hiv Roundup in 1942? How did that reaction affect your direction of the film?
A. My reaction is probably the same as that of most of the people. Of course, the story itself is very shocking, but I try not to be judgmental at all because it was a time of war. We cannot judge those times against the life we have today. But I think it is important to know what happened. We need to know our history and learn from the experience it brings because the more experience you get, the wiser you become.
Q. What impact has the film had on its American and French audiences?
A. The French audience is a bit special because the French people took it personally. However, the film has been a success. There has been no controversy because today’s people were not involved during those times. They do not feel guilty – they should not have to. So, I think we have the time distance now to confront it in mature way, I would say. Not only was the American audience shocked to discover it was the French police, not the Nazis, who were involved in this, but other audiences around the world were as well. Maybe they got shocked because they were not aware of what happened during those times in European countries and in particular in France: you had local governments cooperating with the Nazis.
Q. Which is your favorite scene from “Sarah’s Key,” and why?
A. My favorite scene is when the girl escaped from the camp. When I read the book, I envisioned it. I really wanted to explain that, so I was very interested to show it. I think it played out very well. The toughest one is when there is the separation between the mother and the children.
Q. What other type of films would like to direct in the near future?
A. My next movie is called “Dark Places.” It is based on a book by Gillian Flynn. It is actually a thriller that is filled with substance. It is not a history book, for sure – it is fiction.
Q. What are some of the major themes of the movie?
A. It is how the past affects our present, and how we need to know and learn from it. This is the essential idea of the movie.
Q. What makes this film different from other films that depict the Holocaust?
A. The main difference is that 60 percent of the movie is not set in the present time, so it makes a huge difference. You deal with the facts themselves, but you deal with the consequences for future generations because Sarah grew up in the fifties during the Holocaust. The consequences of those times affected generation after generation. The film is also produced from a French perspective, and people had learned about the historical events it depicts.
Q. What do you hope that viewers will take from “Sarah’s Key?” Is there a specific reaction that you are trying to evoke?
A. What I really want is for people to think about it and to discuss what they have seen. I want them to ask themselves questions and process it. That is what is important.
Q. Why did you choose to keep French as the main language of the film for your English-speaking audience by adding English subtitles? Do you feel that doing so helped to leave the desired impression?
A. It has to feel real, and the reality is that the French speak French, Americans speak American and the British speak British. So, you have all of these languages preserved in the film.
Q. Besides directing, what are your passions?
A. I love soccer: I am a fan of the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club. I am also passionate about geopolitics and the arts in general.