Friday, November 16, 2012

Movie with Abe: La Rafle

**Visit Jewcy next week to read a special piece devoted to Laurent being a recognizable face in a Holocaust movie. For now, here’s a review of the film.**

La Rafle
Directed by Rose Bosch
Released November 16, 2012

The Holocaust is never an easy subject, but that doesn’t stop filmmakers from using it as subject matter again and again. Over two years after its initial release in France, La Rafle arrives in U.S. theatres this Friday, November 16th. Its title translates to The Round-Up, referring to the arrest and confinement of thousands of French Jews by the French police on July 16th, 1942. It may hit closer to home in France where natives watch with horror at the actions of their ancestors, but seeing how a nation turns on its own people should be equally powerful for audiences worldwide.

Among a strong cast of French actors, screen time is devoted most to Jean Reno’s Jewich camp doctor and Mélanie Laurent’s Protestant nurse, Annette Monod, who takes an active part in fighting for better treatment of the Jews interred at a giant stadium in France. Laurent is most well known for the role of Shoshanna, the sole survivor of a brutal Nazi execution, in "Inglourious Basterds", and subsequently played Anna, an actress who charms her way into the life of Oliver (Ewan McGregor) in "Beginners". When Oliver tells her she is pretty, she shoots back, replying that her mother always said that Jewish girls cannot pretty. Her previous roles can be described as exceptionally Jewish, and now Laurent is playing against type, looking in on anti-Semitism from the outside.

Annette may not be Jewish, but she is the ultimate Righteous Gentile. She is first seen in a room full of nurses being told by their supervisors that, should the Nazis arrive, they will help the two Jewish nurses among them escape. From that first appearance, Annette is the symbol of morality. The famous Martin Niemöller quote, which begins “First they came…” and tells of how the narrator failed to stand up for the prosecuted people because it was not a group to which he belonged, does not apply to Annette. She forms a bond with Reno’s Jewish doctor and sees her patients as people. To prove a point, she eats only what the Jews eat, and fights for someone in a position of power to recognize the injustice of what is happening. Annette symbolizes of a collective guilt over the Holocaust, the kind of person that anyone living at the time wishes they would have been. Laurent describes Annette as representative of humanity, with an appalling sense of dignity driven by her own heart.

Like other Holocaust films, La Rafle contains a fair amount of unsettling imagery. Watching French soldiers farm out to systematically carry out their eviction orders is disturbing, as is the sight of a giant stadium filled with Jews, unaware of what fate awaits them. Some believe that if you’ve seen one Holocaust film, you’ve seen them all, and while this is unlikely to change that perception for those no longer interested in watching historical horrors played out on screen, it does tell an emotional and important story.

La Rafle provides a compelling, moving documentation of the Holocaust at its roots in France, even more fearsome because the round-up was conducted willingly by the French police. Watching Frenchmen turn on Frenchmen and give in to brutality and hatred demands a response to Niemöller’s closing line: “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” Holocaust survivors cry out “Never again,” and educational, powerful films with recognizable stars like this are the best defense against history repeating itself.


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