The Round Up review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
A successful French WWII film struggles to find its footing ...
We've been inundated with films about the second World War, Hitler and the holocaust, but former investigative journalist Rose Bosch tries to give us a new perspective in exploring the French angle in her new feature The Round-Up.
Broken up into significant dates charting the beginnings of racial cleansing, Bosch's film starts in the Summer of 1942 when we're sombrely told "all events, even the most extreme, really occurred". Black and white cine-film footage and end credits remind us we're watching a real-life feature, grounded in a shocking past. As if to further highlight this we're shown the public places decree from 8-9 July that stated no Jews were allowed to go into public places and all must adhere to an 8pm Israelites' curfew. Swiftly following these unjust demands are the introduction of "No Jews Allowed" signs and the titular round-up.
We begin our journey in occupied France in a Jewish ghetto where Stars of David already must be worn. Radio programs transmit presenters who complain, "Paris is crawling with Jews.... Jews who infest France like parasites....undesirables". Through a Jewish child's perspective (two brothers and friend) we're shown the mass round-up for deportation of thousands of Jews, many of whom went off the radar owing to the help of kindly locals incensed by the injustices they were witnessing.
Going back to her documentary roots, Bosch tries to give a balanced understanding of events by flitting between Nazi meetings with the French government, the Jewish families' plight and French nurses graduating. Unfortunately, over-sentimental scenes - many of which play up too much to Hitler's lavish lifestyle - quite obviously tip the balance, but in a story such as this, one could argue that true objectivity is impossible. Juxtaposing Hitler's car-shaped chocolate cake containing a model of him, with the watery broth the Jews are sporadically forced to endure is perhaps a little crass.
Still, The Round-Up is moving in its attention to detail. Signs displayed on train carriages like "people 40, horses 8” act as a constant reminder to the horrific conditions the Jews contended with, as do the crammed stadium scenes and reflections from a WW1 Verdun nurse who claims facilities were better in the trenches. Talk of “only four suicides so far” during the round-up highlight the shocking disregard for human life prevalent in some warped leaders' minds during WW2. One of the most stirring moments is when the ever-optimistic “parasites” walking from the station to the camp start singing. It's certainly difficult viewing - especially when considering the sheer brutality of the Nazi regime - but scenes such as these provide moments of light-hearted relief, whilst further highlighting the atrocities committed during this dark period of World history.
As if to up our sympathy, Bosch repeatedly focuses on the children, rather obviously mentioning a game they played called "the roundup" and elongating the moment that they are finally separated from their mothers. What she does do well is prompt us to remember all the behind-the-scenes people who helped alleviate the suffering of the Jews or conceal them. Among a chief plumber, a priest, a firemen, a nurse and a doctor, lies the real protagonist. Newly qualified idealistic nurse, Annette (Melanie Laurent) is our Florence Nightingale - our light from the darkness - and the Jewish doctor she works with (Jean Reno), the calm behind the storm.
Starting and concluding with the children may be a neat way of structuring the film but also stresses its over-sentimentality. Depicting the Jewish journey from the start of the holocaust to the end, The Round-Up is no Life is Beautiful, adding nothing new to our understanding of events. Its strong performances, emotional content and national relevance has led to widespread box-office success in France, but here it may struggle to win over audiences looking for some originality.
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