By Don Simpson | November 15, 2012
Director: Rose Bosch
Writer: Rose Bosch
Starring: Jean Reno, Mélanie Laurent, Gad Elmaleh, Raphaëlle Agogué, Hugo Leverdez, Mathieu Di Concerto, Romain Di Concerto, Oliver Cywie, Sylvie Testud, Anne Brochet, Denis Ménochet, Roland Copé, Jean-Michel Noirey, Rebecca Marder, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Catherine Allégret, Thierry Frémont
Did you know that on July 16, 1942, French police arrested more than 13,000 Parisian Jews, including 4,000 children? What has become known as the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup was the result of Nazi pressure on Vichy officials who opted to do the dirty deed themselves rather than appear weak and unhelpful to the Nazis. In The Round Up, writer-director Rose Bosch does attempt to show the French officials making some objections — such as not wanting to arrest any Jews who are French citizens — but saying no to Hitler was not acceptable to the Nazis.
The Jews — French citizens or not — are first brought to the Winter Velodrome, a colossal stadium that offers horrendously inhumane living conditions. Next they are taken to a French interment camp at Drancy, which turns out to be a mere pit stop before being sent to their death at Auschwitz. It is inside the Velodrome that a kind Jewish doctor, David (Jean Reno), meets a young Protestant nurse, Annette (Mélanie Laurent). They are both so dedicated to taking care of the Jewish children that they board the train to the internment camp with them. (Every overly-sentimentalized historical thriller needs a hero and a beautiful young love interest, right?) Annette naively petitions officials to improve the living conditions for the Jews, even opting to survive solely on the ridiculous food rations allowed for the prisoners. David goes as far as voluntarily traveling to Auschwitz with the prisoners, presumably meeting their same fate.
Frequent cross-cuts — between the Jewish families, the Vichy officials meeting with Nazi officials, and Hitler living the high life — seem intended to heighten our reactions to the on screen events; unfortunately this technique only serves to muddle the emotional aspects of the story. We never spend quite enough time with any of the Jewish families to become emotionally attached to them. Even the film’s presumed heroes, David and Annette, are only allotted a slight portion of screen time. The camera only seems to care about two of the children — Jo (Hugo Leverdez) and Nono (Mathieu and Romain di Concerto) — and even they are proven to be little more than superficially cute; nonetheless, Bosch cleverly uses the angelic appearances of these two young boys to tug at our heartstrings at every opportunity. This is as good of a time as any to point out the harrowing detail that — despite what Bosch’s revised version of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup tells us — none of the children survived to tell their tale.
Though equally convoluted and contrived, The Round Up is one of those films that deserves to be seen solely for its subject matter. (Though, personally, I much prefer Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s film Sarah’s Key over this one.) It is beyond horrible that any country would turn on its own population, demonizing an entire race of people. Of course with the Nazis at your doorstep, what would you do? But, to make matters even more embarrassing to the French, it was not until 1995 that a public apology was uttered by a French government official (Jacques Chirac) to the citizens of France. Yes, that is over 50 years after they sent tens of thousands of their own population on a one-way train ride to a Nazi slaughterhouse. Ridiculous!