Film Review: La Rafle

Drama about the roundup of Jews in Nazi-occupied France suffers from one-dimensional characterizations and whitewashing of French complicity.

Promotion on state-run television and information packages handed out in schools made Rose Bosch's La Rafle, about a particularly murky episode in France's wartime history, a movie event in France. Outside that country, the film's appeal will be more problematic, though its mix of melodrama and spectacle may well draw in popular audiences, perhaps similar to those who saw merit in Roberto Benigni's 1997 concentration-camp comedy, Life Is Beautiful.

Bosch's depiction of the operation by collaborationist authorities that saw 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, swept up and parked in transit camps, including an indoor cycling stadium, before being sent to their deaths in Auschwitz is deeply sentimental and depends heavily on pathos for its effect.

The movie's focus begins with the Weismann family, Shmuel and Sura (Gad Elmaleh and Raphaelle Agogue) and their son Jo (Hugo Leverdez), as they are caught up in a police raid on a Jewish quarter in a picture-postcard Montmartre. The film then expands to take in a doctor, David Sheinbaum (Jean Reno), who struggles to minister to the deportees' needs, and a non-Jewish nurse, Annette Monod (Mélanie Laurent from Inglourious Basterds), who accompanies them in their transit-camp ordeal.

Written as well as directed by Bosch (who scripted Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise), the movie is set at a high emotional pitch that fails to disguise the fact that it is overdocumented and underdramatized. La Rafle is history by numbers, ticking off key events as they occur and inserting gobbets of factual information—none new or revelatory—into the narrative.

The characters are two-dimensional and the cast is required to do little more than emote and express high-minded sentiments of one form or another. Historical context is provided by scenes representing Hitler at his Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden or the Vichy prime minister Pierre Laval signing off on the deportations.

In its earnestness, the film strikes too many false notes, often undermining scenes intended to carry an intense emotional charge, most notably the separation of the Jewish children from their parents. But perhaps its greatest failing, and the main source of the unease that the film arouses, is its determination to let the French population at large off the hook. With a single exception (a blowsy baker's wife), the people of Paris are shown as doing their noble best to foil or hinder the operation—an entirely dubious proposition—and a closing title adds a self-congratulatory note.

A bankable cast, a hint of controversy and high production values may play in their favor commercially, but Bosch and her producer-husband Ilan Goldman have come dangerously close to making a feel-good movie about the Holocaust.
The Hollywood Reporter