Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review – The Round Up

February 3, 2011

The Round Up – France, 2010

There’s a moment towards the beginning of Rose Bosch’s The Round Up when a female character looks at three young children and notices something about them that she had earlier been oblivious to. She remarks to her husband that she never knew there were so many, and she doesn’t intend this remark as a compliment. They seemed like such good kids, she says aloud, sighing as if so much is different now. What she has been able to see for the first time is that three of the children who she has known for years are Jewish. The stars on their clothes make that clear. It shouldn’t make a difference, and yet it does. As she looks around her, she can only see the sheer number of them in her neighborhood, and she begins to think of them as if they are invaders, not true French citizens, despite the fact that at least one of their parents is a war hero. It is the perfect sentiment for the events that follow, for it enables people to look the other way as a racial genocide is committed.

The Round Up takes place in France in the summer of 1942, two years after France signed an armistice with Germany and France was divided into three sections. For those in positions of authority, from the police to the government, there was a dilemma: Should they follow orders or follow their conscience? For example, what should a police officer charged with enforcing the law do when he sees a Jewish boy playing in a park that has a sign declaring his mere presence there to be illegal? In the film, we see one officer ignore it, while another later insists he has to enforce the law. In the film, there are plenty of people who, like the second officer, follow orders; other more brave individuals take a stand by refusing to expel Jews from classes and walking out of parks when their Jewish friends are ordered to leave. At the end of the film, we learn that because of people like them, 10,000 Jews that the Germans had wanted arrested and deported were never rounded up. 13,000 though were not so lucky. The Round Up tells the story of some of these individuals.

The Round Up focuses primarily on three families who along with many of their neighbors are rounded up early one morning and forcibly moved to the Winter Veledrome, located near the Eiffel Tower. The scene in which the French police arrive to enforce the round up is one of the most emotional scenes I’ve seen in quite a while, as parents frantically try to protect their children. We see many of their non-Jewish residents taking them in without question in spite of the risks that doing so carries with it. Those arrested are forced to live for days on bleachers usually filled with cheering fans of indoor bicycling. There, one doctor and six nurses try their best to help as many people as they can. The task could be easier, but the Germans refuse to allow additional volunteers in to help. “No witnesses,” they explain.

The film does not focus on one person’s experiences, electing instead to show as wide a view of the events that are transpiring as possible. We meet the Weisman family, consisting of Schmuel and Sura, who believe things will be all right even as rumors of imminent arrests begin to emerge. They have three children: Rachel, who has heard the rumors and believes them to be true, Jo, who we see break into tears when she is no longer legally allowed to attend ballet class, and Joseph, a very resourceful young man. There’s also the Zieglers – Bella, pregnant with a third child; Simon, Joseph’s best friend; and the youngest, a sweet naïve boy named Nono. We follow these characters as they try their best to cope and survive what they hope will just be a brief series of extreme hardships. We know differently of course. The film has shown us the negotiations that have taken place between the Germans and some in the French government. We have also seen Hitler and his underlings in their mountain palace enjoying the good life, while casually talking about the impending extermination of thousands.

There have been many films about the tragic events of World War II, so many that it’s tempting to think that all of the stories from that time have been told. They haven’t. And while not every story makes for the most interesting movie, the events in The Round Up are important to understand. Just how is it that some people can so easily be turned against their neighbors? At one point in the film, someone observes that France is not “anti-Semitic enough” yet for people to get behind mass deportations and arrests. Did they think it would eventually be? Is it that easily to turn a country against its own people? As the film makes clear, it is not. We see firemen risking their jobs to help people deliver messages to loved ones, a nurse putting herself on the same rations as the people in her care and then confronting members of the government with her own weakened physical state, and neighbors who try desperately to either warn or save the friends that have known for years. Their efforts are truly inspiring.

The Round Up was written and directed by Rose Bosch. It is such a polished film that it’s hard to believe that it is only her second feature length film. As for the cast, it is simply outstanding. Jean Reno, given top billing despite having only a supporting role in the film, is excellent as Dr. David Sheinbaum, and Melanie Laurent shines as Annette Monod, a nurse just out of school who is thrust into a terrible situation. The Round Up is well worth seeking out. (on Blu-ray in Region 3; the film has not yet opened in the United States)

4 stars

*The Round Up is in French, German, and Yiddish with English subtitles.

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