La Rafflé (The Roundup)
Script-O-Meter Review: 9
Running time: 115 minutes
French film with English subtitles
Genres: Drama/Historical Epic/Thriller
Premise according to imdb.com: A faithful retelling of the 1942 “Vel d’Hiv Roundup” and the events surrounding it.
I would re-write this Premise: When a young, Christian nurse is caught up in the 1942 “Vel d’Hiv Roundup” in France, she risks her life to provide help and care to the mass of Jewish humanity destined for extermination.
I would change the Premise for the following reasons:
I review storytelling for film from the perspective of a screenwriting teacher, which is not usually the norm for most reviewers. If the marketing of this story were as a Documentary Drama, then the Premise on imdb.com should stand. But this is unfortunate because the script for this film was superb and the story was so much more than a Documentary Drama.
First of all, the audience comes to this film already knowing the ending of the tragic serial murder/genocide of the Jews in all of Europe during the rise of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. So, to call this film a Holocaust story set in France does not do it justice. The genres are Drama/Historical Epic. What the writer added were elements of Thriller by transcending the usual story beats found in the Thriller genre.
Hitler as the Main Opponent remains a hidden Main Opponent by letting his henchmen and Nazi army of puppets and evil barbarians do his dirty work. His flawed and pathetic character are portrayed by showing him a slave of the drug needle; a music connoisseur, particularly Wagner – music to play in the background while plotting the destruction of European Jewry and or millions of Russians, Poles, Gypsies, mentally disabled, priests, political adversaries; his family is so very loving and he is a kind and devoted uncle and so reserved and elegant.
Hitler’s story world is juxtaposed to the story world of the French Jews: poor, patriotic (many had served France in WWI), acculturated, etc. Then there is the Hero of the story – a young, Christian nurse, the daughter of a pastor, who is swept up in the barbarity of this epic story.
Her character arc is brilliantly laid out for us: She begins as a novice and ends as a war weary, emotionally scarred righteous Gentile, whose love and caring were a paradigm for all the non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews. The doctor is the Point of View character, a Jewish man who certainly knows his own fate, yet a brave man who stayed with his children to protect them as much as humanly possible.
The Narrative Drive of the story was ramped up by the use of cross-cutting between the Hero and the Jews being rounded up and the Main Opponents – the Nazis, the head of the Vichy French government, their henchmen who brutally beat the Jewish civilians once they felt their anti-Semitic power had full backing by the regime that was now in power. The Reveal to the Audience is in play in this script in a very powerful way – We all know the horror that awaits the characters in the story – This knowledge puts the audience in the driver’s seat throughout –
Therefore, the surprises are historical and epic in nature: The firemen who acted like righteous humans when most of the world had gone mad; the actual plight of the French citizenry during the Roundup, never told with such accuracy before; the behavior of the French Gendarmes, who in many cases were as evil as the German Nazis they colluded with. The historical revelations were honest and the dialogue was honest – No glossing over truth in this story.
Another great sign of a good story writer is that the message was not preachy. The characters in the travesty did NOT KNOW their end – The Final Solution is known to the audience – not to the characters. The Designing Principle, so important to storytelling, is that no matter what happens to human beings, they can somehow prevail, but there must always be those who are not afraid to come forward and “do the right thing.”
To be different, with a moral compass, in a sea of indifference – That’s the theme of this story. The writer stuck to that theme and imbued the Hero and supporting characters with this Desire Line throughout the story. All the way to the end, the Self-Revelation moment, this Designing Principle remained steady and purposeful.
And so, another story has been told about one of the darkest periods in human history – But the story was told by using transcending elements to Drama and Historical Epic. I might also add that the use of children as part of the Designing Principle was another beautiful decision on the part of the writer. The audience knows how this story ends before the movie begins, but the children carry the message even further because they are the future. So, the structure of this story was superb; the plot was written with depth and powerful Narrative Drive, the acting was stellar.