Directed by Roselyne Bosch, The Round Up is a faithful retelling of the events of July 1942 when more than 13,000 Parisian Jews (including 4,000 children) were rounded up and taken to the now notorious Velodrome d'Hiver sports stadium, by the Nazis in a then form of ethnic cleansing.
Based on meticulous research and the individual accounts of those who witnessed the events and survived them, the construction of the narrative is based around certain strands that come together to the Velodrome. We follow Schmuel Weissman (Gad Elmaleh), a noble gentleman who is also a war veteran and is the intelligent one of the group who can speak for everyone with calmness against the Nazis.
Jean Reno plays Jewish doctor David Schlenbaum, assisted by Protestant nurse Annette (Melanie Laurent), in caring for the 13,000 Jews crammed into the tiny stadium with little water and no food. The first time we witness the full extent of the horror at the Velodrome we see it through the eyes of Annette - it is played with a choral singing over the wails of people and the noise of masses spilling onto each other. Part mass crowd, part CGI the sight is horrifying and haunting for the soul.
Cleverly shot are the scenes of the round-up itself, played for naturalism with effective acting and editing, you are left in no doubt at to how unfortunate and frightening it must have been to be evicted from your family home all on account of your ethnicity.
What the film does tell you, and is quite critical of is the French government who allowed the round-up to take place so that the French police could patrol the capital city themselves, in a way they gave up the French Jews and made a deal with the devil. In that instance, it is surprising that this story has taken so long to reach the screen - perhaps in part due to the delicate satirical nature of the material or maybe in part due to the fact that children were hoarded onto the trains to their deaths along with adults.
When watching the Holocaust films of recent years (The Pianist, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) you get a sense that maybe the Nazis could have had some humanity, but the detail of killing children also makes it hard to believe. Another factor may also be the sheer fatalism of such a film, where the ending is pre-determined and no matter how benevolent a nurse is, she alone cannot stop the rampaging tyrannical force of Nazi Germany.
The problem also with Holocaust films is that after Schindler's List, a lot of films pale in significance, whilst this is a fabulous story in need of a larger audience (already more than 3million people in France have seen the film) and the box-office records in France suggest it may travel well; you get a sense that it would be better served in schools as an educational tool.
That is not to discredit the sterling acting from an experienced cast including the stellar child actors, along with the esteemable art direction from Olivier Raoux and costumes by Gilles Bodu-Lemoine; the film works well as both a political comment on a dark moment in French history, and a wonderful production in current French cinema.
The Round-Up (La Rafle) is released on Monday 18th July by Revolver Entertainment on DVD and Blu-Ray