The Round Up Review

There’s a growing trend in French cinema to confront past mistakes through the medium of film. Historical faux pax’s if you will that are amounting to somewhat of a confessionary new wave. Rachid Bouchareb’s Days of Glory and the more recent Outside The Law fall here. Even François Ozon’s latest Potiche is a satirical take on the misogynist and chauvinist treatment of Ségolène Royal in the 2007 presidential election by the party of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Investigative journalist Rose Bosch’s The Round Up rests itself quite powerfully in this new wave. It’s the first piece of cinema to address the eponymous 1942 July round up in which over 13,000 Parisian Jews, including 4,000 children, were taken to the cavernous Vélodrome d’Hiv. A debauched and horrifying limbo illustrated powerfully through sweeping interior vistas of row upon row of crammed in humanity. And then onwards to a moment in history of which this feature asks the easily avoidable, who exactly was complicit?

As a piece of psychological pacification then the message is clear. And it’s powerful. Using purely eye witness accounts to breathe life to a cinematic portrayal of the events from a Jewish quarter in Paris, to the detainment camp at Beaune la Rolande, even to the terrace of Hitler’s Berghof an absorbing story is weaved to emotionally devastating effect.

Charting a few weeks in that fateful July, the film focuses on a locus of different character relationships. Following mainly, but loosely, the journey of the young Jo Weismann (Hugo Leverdez) and his mother and father (Raphaëlle Agogué and Gad Elmaleh) as they’re snatched from their peaceful, tentative existence in Nazi occupied France. As comfort turns to calamity he encounters various others fighting for their own, and other’s survival including Jewish doctor David (Jean Reno) and nurse turned surrogate mother / Jewish evangelist Annette (Mélanie Laurent).

To say the acting is close to the bone is an understatement. Striking a careful balance between sincerity and drama these fragments of eyewitness accounts are fleshed out in fully believable and empathetic characters that wear the pain of their times freely on their faces, in their body language and in their interactions.

Bosch’s fastidious direction for the most part keeps the emotional narrative tightly wound. A slight first act lull portrays an odd familial dynamic that thankfully develops into more broadly believable touches as the hammer comes down on the Jewish existence. Once the unavoidable gears of historical truth clunk into motion Bosch allows the pain of past to speak for itself through the intimate POV camera angles and the evident emotional strength of the subject matter. Unsuspecting Jewish citizens are contrasted with insecure and emasculated French authorities, aware of a broader plan. And their naivety echoes the unthinkable reality of what was later to transpire, which the film reveals in a remarkably non exploitative and overwrought way.

Despite the dramatic and potentially illuminating effect of committing holocaust events to non-documentary methods there remains a level of cynicism attached to movies like The Round Up. And it’s understandable as their production and subsequent return rest solely in conveying a period of history that more than any over is etched into the psychological memory of Europe, and indeed the world. However Bosch’s film takes the emphasis away from caricatured German demonism and instead asks poignant and illuminating self-reflective questions for the French people.

Some minor niggles exist – confused scenes with Hitler that feel uncomfortable and directionless – but as a means of excavating the atrocities of the past it succeeds. And the fact that audiences know, for better or worse, at the outset what’s in store doesn’t stop this being deeply compelling viewing. What could at times have devolved into trite, saccharine, clichéd melodrama is saved on the strength of the performances and the rich detail, and humanity of the direction.

The Round Up is released on DVD and Blu-ray on the 18th July

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