An account of collaborationist Paris' World War II capture of more than 13,000 French Jews for deportation, Rose Boche's film "La Rafle" (The Roundup) aims for historical drama both procedural and soapy, with mixed results.
France's shameful effort to appease the Nazis is told mostly from the perspective of a young Jewish boy (Hugo Leverdez) named Jo, who is based on the accounts of a real-life survivor. Jo's family ignores the warning signs until the dead-of-night gendarme raids, the planning of which by indifferent Vichy officials Boche occasionally shows with particularly wound-opening contempt. (Superfluous scenes featuring Hitler, meanwhile, feel like reaching too hard for obvious villainy.)
It's the introduction of Melanie Laurent, however, as a sympathetic Protestant nurse in the deportee-packed stadium known as the Velodrome d'Hiver that signals the movie's bases-covered approach to emotionalism. It's terrible enough watching the internees endure each threatened separation and loss of personal dignity as we move from stadium to transit camp to moment of irrevocable, family-splitting fate without the addition of the deeply caring observer who weeps too. Was Boche worried her already vividly drawn breakdown of institutionalized debasement wasn't enough?
Laurent is fine, whether horrified or stalwart, but it's the look on Jo's face that truly haunts in the postwar epilogue as he stares implacably, unchild-like, through a spinning merry-go-round.
"La Rafle." No MPAA rating. In French, German and Yiddish, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.