SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE FINAL DAYS directed by Marc Rothemund, written by Fred Breinersdorfer, with Julia Jentsch, Fabian Hinrichs, Gerald Held and Johanna Gastdorf. 117 minutes. A Zeitgeist/Mongrel Media release. Subtitled. Opens Friday (April 7). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
This is the second film from ger many in a little over 20 years about Sophie Scholl and the White Rose, a group of Munich university students who, in 1943, did some anti-Hitler leafletting and were executed for their trouble. Scholl is a hero in Germany, where high schools are named after her.
It's rather sad, when you think about it. The new historical revisionism, which leaks into this film, cites Germany as a country "occupied" by the Nazis.
But that proposition runs into the insuperable problem of Scholl and the White Rose themselves who, by circulating a half-dozen leaflets and painting slogans on some walls, represent the height of German resistance to the Nazis after 1938.
Most countries that were actually occupied managed to mount a more impressive resistance than that of a handful of idealistic students with a mimeograph machine. Struggles like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the partisans' resistance in Vilna may have been futile and fatal, but they involved more than leaflets.
Sophie Scholl's nomination for the best foreign-language film at this year's Academy Awards is part of an unnerving trend in this category toward selecting films that are most like Hollywood's. This year's winner, Tsotsi, could easily be transposed from a South African shantytown to an American ghetto. Indeed, double-bill it with Freedomland when they come out on DVD and you'll see.
Sophie Scholl fits comfortably into the Hollywood genre of noble, idealistic resistance to illegitimate authority, of martyrdom without all that annoying religion. Someone perceives an injustice and stands up to be counted. It's Norma Rae or Silkwood, with Nazis.
It's a well-made film with a strong central performance by Julia Jentsch, though I must admit a preference for Lena Stolze's Sophie in Michael Verhoeven's 1982 film, The White Rose, which gives more insight into the characters and their decision to resist. This film is more limited in scope, dealing with the group's last six days, from their arrest to their execution.
Like the recent German Hitler-in-the-bunker picture, Downfall, Sophie Scholl relies very heavily on the documentation. The Nazis were demons for documentation, as every filmmaker from Claude Lanzmann and Marcel Ophuls to the creators of Sophie Scholl is well aware, so we know how many leaflets the White Rose managed to distribute, what was said at their show trial and how they were executed.
This doesn't leave a great deal of room for the writer. It does, however, allow director Marc Rothemund to make some interesting comments in areas that weren't covered by the documents. Thus, Scholl's interrogator (Gerald Held) seems affected by Scholl's idealism, and occasional reaction shots of the ranking military officers packing the courtroom suggest that, unlike the spittle-spraying judge, they know the White Rose is right about Germany's coming defeat.
Nothing like letting your revisionism sneak in around the edges.