In the first story, it’s 1942 and the police arrive at the home of a Jewish girl, Sarah (Mélusine Mayance). She immediately sees through the weasel words of the officer and locks her brother in a cupboard, promising to return. Handheld cameras capture a kind of collective unhinging as terror grips the thousands thrown first in a city centre cycle track, the Vélodrome d’Hiver, then shunted to a transit camp.
Sixty years later, Scott Thomas is an American journalist living in France, researching a story on the round-up, who discovers that her husband’s grandparents possibly moved into Sarah’s flat weeks later in August 1942. The two halves are told concurrently, a structure that’s fine for a novel but too schematic on film, doing justice to neither story.
Scott Thomas is tremendous, though; the emotional detail of her performance is never less than gripping, even as the film falters. Shock, sympathy and the horrific realisation that she would have behaved no differently all pass across her face as she listens to the what-else-could-I-have-done complicity of her grandmother-in-law (‘Oh, it was the war. Everything was so confused’) or an elderly woman wearing a prominent crucifix whose flat overlooked the Vélodrome: ‘They fed us such lies about the Jews… Who would I tell? The police?’