Turning one of the darkest moments in modern French history into syrupy historical drama, writer-director Rose Bosch’s “The Round Up” is a polished, pathos-driven re-creation of the Vichy regime’s mass imprisonment and disposal of 13,000 Parisian Jews in summer 1942. With impeccable production values and all-around stirring performances, pic emphasizes the unbearable emotions caused by “events, even the most extreme, that actually happened” (per opening credits), though it often oversimplifies them into a framework of good vs. evil. Following wide local release March 10, this €20 million ($27 million) co-production should round up ample worldwide biz.
Script is based on years of research and interviews compiled by journalist-cum-screenwriter Bosch (“1492: Conquest of Paradise,” “Pact of Silence”), including input from French Holocaust expert Serge Klarsfeld (credited as historical adviser). It dramatizes certain stories and characters while attempting to stick close to the record.
After an opening newsreel showing Hitler and his cohorts prancing around a conquered Paris, the action cuts to the idyllic neighborhood of Montmartre, where 10-year old Joseph “Jo” Weismann (Hugo Leverdez) runs amok with school buddy Simon (Olivier Cywie) and his younger bro, Noe (played by identical twins Mathieu and Romain di Concetto).
Despite the yellow stars sewn to their sweaters, the boys are ignorant of the fate that awaits them. Their parents — Schmeul (Gad Elmaleh) and Sura (Raphaelle Agogue) for Jo, Bella Zygler (Sylvie Testud) for Simon and Noe — seem to trust blindly in the corrupted Vichy government.
Directed with assertion and fluidity by Bosch, these early parts are somewhat marred by the naivete of the dialogue and a need to overstate the heaviness of everything onscreen. But the fact that the helmer concentrates mostly on the gang of charming tykes makes all the tear-jerking easy to digest and, in the end, undeniably endearing.
As the film follow the two families in the days leading up to the roundup, the narrative crosscuts to scenes showing interim French leader Petain (Roland Cope) selling off his Jewish citizens to a German army eager to carry out its final solution. Also included are several sequences of the Fuhrer (Udo Schenk) barking orders from his Bavarian retreat, in a cartoonish manner that seems lifted from “Inglourious Basterds.”
Midway through, Bosch provides her most visceral, bravura sequence when the Vichy authorities launch a mass arrest of 25,000 Jews living in Paris. “Only” 13,000 are actually nabbed, and then detained for several days in an indoor cycling stadium nicknamed the “Vel’ d’Hiv” — recreated with impressive, life-size detail by p.d. Olivier Raoux. However, their abominable treatment at the hands of mostly willing French officers is shown as the first step on a road that will end in the concentration camps of Eastern Europe.
During the roundup, two of the pic’s more believable characters also take centerstage: Protestant nurse Annette Monod (Melanie Laurent) and Jewish doctor David Sheinbaum (Jean Reno), who first team up at the Vel’ d’Hiv and then join the imprisoned families in an internment camp at Beaune-la-Rolande. Laurent is particularly strong, depicting Annette’s perseverance in the face of collective physical and psychological suffering, while Reno lends David a sense of weary dignity.
Final segments concentrate on the nurse’s last efforts to save Jo and the others. However, a 1945-set epilogue unfortunately heads in a direction reminiscent of “Life Is Beautiful,” taking some steam out of the otherwise dark narrative.
Beyond the praiseworthy art direction, tech highlights include rich widescreen lensing by David Ungaro (“Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky”) and starkly hewn costumes by Pierre-Jean Larroque (“Female Agents”).