The Round Up

Review by © Jane Freebury

In the archival footage that opens The Round Up there’s the small but telling detail of two gendarmes giving the salute to Hitler as he drives past on a tour of the French capital. It is the French police and the authorities who gave them their orders during World War II who are the villains of the piece in this harrowing new holocaust drama from France.

On a summer’s night in Paris in 1942, some 13,000 Jewish people were dragged from their homes and carted off by the gendarmerie to a sporting arena, the city’s winter velodrome. Instructed to bring with them two changes of clothing and food for two days they were kept captive for five before being despatched in trains for a destination somewhere to the east, the gas chambers of course. It was not until the 1990s that the French Government acknowledged the complicity of French authorities in delivering innocent people to their executioners.

To reach their final destination the Jews, entire families, were crammed into carriages lined with straw that were built for the transportation of horses. Round up, indeed.

This is a true story, recreated in a blaze of indignation that is understandable given the enormity of the crime against humanity and the fact that the sad tale has apparently been suppressed until now. Writer-director Rose Bosch and her fellow filmmakers have made sure that it is told so few will leave the cinema without tears of sorrow and outrage in their eyes. Impassioned and indignant, the film wears its heart on its sleeve.

The glow of summer at the start is short-lived when yellow stars of David start appearing everywhere, Jewish women with children are ordered to leave public parks, Jewish students are barred from the universities and a curfew is announced. We watch in horror as people are stripped of their dignity and everything they value. Eleven-year-old Joseph Weismann (Hugo Leverdez) and his family, and their friends and neighbours the Zyglers and the Traubes are wrenched from their homes, and then ultimately separated from each other before their final journey.

The unfolding tragedy is interwoven with some heavy-handed acted scenes of Hitler, his hangers-on, his henchmen and collaborator Marshal Petain that the film could have done without. The strength of Bruno Ganz’s characterisation of Hitler in Downfall was his portrayal of the banality of evil.

Actors Melanie Laurent and Jean Reno make a welcome appearance as a nurse and doctor team who bear witness to the tragedy. However, the filmmakers clearly want us to see the event through the eyes of the children, the poppets who will never survive – and one of the few who does manage to. The real Joseph Weismann appears in a cameo near the end. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it.

In a capsule: A harrowing holocaust drama from France about how thousands of Jews who were herded together and delivered to their executioners by the French authorities in WWII. Impassioned and indignant, it wears its heart on its sleeve.

3.5 stars