Recent Historical Films

 

 

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (M. Rothemund, 2005)
 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Directed by Marc Rothemund; written (in German, with English subtitles) by Fred Breinersdorfer; director of photography, Martin Langer; edited by Hans Funck; music by Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil; produced by Christoph Mueller, Sven Burgemeister, Mr. Breinersdorfer and Mr. Rothemund; released by Zeitgeist Films. At the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. Running time: 117 minutes.

 

 

Synopsis

In 1943, as Hitler continues to wage war across Europe, a group of college students mount an underground resistance movement in Munich. Dedicated expressly to the downfall of the monolithic Third Reich war machine, they call themselves the White Rose. One of its few female members, Sophie Scholl is captured during a dangerous mission to distribute pamphlets on campus with her brother Hans. Unwavering in her convictions and loyalty to the White Rose, her cross-examination by the Gestapo quickly escalates into a searing test of wills as Scholl delivers a passionate call to freedom and personal responsibility that is both haunting and timeless.

 

From the Director

"Everybody knows Sophie Scholl in Germany. It is like a brand name; she is the most famous German. [...] Here you have a 21 year-old woman, well educated, a student, who spends three days with a 44 year-old Nazi in one room, who in the end tries to save her life. Over three days with two such different characters - it is such an intense emotional journey. [...] Sophie believed in God, not in an extremist way, but she believed in something that goes on after death and that helped her to decide 'I don't regret, I accept the death, and I won't work with you murderers'. So all the prayers are original Sophie Scholl words." (Marc Rothemund).

 

Quotes on the Film

"Riveting!... A heartbreaking yet stirring reminder of the perils, and glory, and courage. A magnetic lead performance by Julia Jentsch!" (John Powers, VOGUE).

"Jentsch! A chilling authenticity derived by the script's use of actual Gestapo documents that had remained in East German archives until 1990!... Grippingly portrayed!... involving!... Jentsch is terrific!... (Alexander) Held is first-rate!" (Dereck Elley, VARIETY).

"As befits a film about a woman who took much of her strenght from religious conviction, Jentsch's performance seems to be lit from within. This role has so taken hold of the actress that we feel we're seeing Scholl's spirit come to life again. To take a character that idealistic and make us believe she unquestionably existed is acting the way you want it to be". (Keneth Turan, Los Angeles Times).

 

Press Clippings

 

By Marcy Dermansky

Based on a true story, the film won Best Director for Marc Rothemund and Best Actress for the marvelous Julia Jentsch at the 2005 Berlin Festival, and it is nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year's Oscars. Two other films have been made about Sophie Scholl and the White Rose resistance group: Michael Verhoeven's "The White Rose" and Percy Adlon's "The Last Five Days," both from 1982. Rothemund's interpretation of events benefits from the original minutes of the Gestapo interrogations, which were only made public in 1990. Shot nearly word for word from these transcripts, the scenes between Scholl and officer Robert Hohl (Alexander Held) are the film's most powerful.

"Sophie Scholl: The Last Days" is a traditional and competently made film; Jentsch's steely performance is brilliant. The composure of twenty-one year old Sophie Scholl boggles the mind. Not just her life, but the lives of her friends and family are at stake, and yet she manages to lie with great ease and intelligence. In the presence of formidable Nazi authority, she does not break down. In the single instance Hohl witnesses tears, Sophie has a ready explanation. For the last five days of her life (the title, of course, gives her well-documented fate away), Sophie wears a red cardigan sweater, a neat blouse and skirt, knee socks and Oxford shoes. She looks like the school girl that she is. To see her in these clothes, day after day, is heartbreaking.

(About.com, 30 October 2005).

 

 

By Stephen Holden

The Quiet Resolve of a German Anti-Nazi Martyr.

"Sophie Scholl: The Final Days" conveys what it must have been like to be a young, smart, idealistic dissenter in Nazi Germany, where no dissent was tolerated. This gripping true story, directed in a cool, semi-documentary style by the German filmmaker Marc Rothemund from a screenplay by Fred Breinersdorfer, challenges you to gauge your own courage and strength of character should you find yourself in similar circumstances. Would you risk your life the way Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch) and a tiny group of fellow students at Munich University did to spread antigovernment leaflets? How would you behave during the kind of relentless interrogations that Sophie endures? If sentenced to death for your activities, would you still consider your resistance to have been worth it? In a climate of national debate in the United States about the overriding of certain civil liberties to fight terrorism, the movie looks back on a worst possible scenario in which such liberties were taken away. It raises an unspoken question: could it happen here?

Scholl, whose story has been told in at least two earlier German films (Michael Verhoeven's "White Rose" and Percy Adlon's "Five Last Days"), is regarded today in Germany as a national heroine. Much of the movie, an Oscar nominee this year for best foreign-language film, is based on documents and court transcripts hidden in East German archives until 1990.

The movie follows the last six days of Sophie's life, after she and her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs) are arrested at Munich University in February 1943 for printing and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets. Their arrest takes place in a political climate of panic and denial after Germany's defeat at Stalingrad. News of the rout has begun to circulate, but the powers-that-be dig in their heels.

The Scholl siblings belong to the White Rose, a tiny resistance movement at Munich University. The pamphlet they distribute in the university's empty halls, while classes are in session, declares that the war cannot be won and urges Germany to sue for peace. They naïvely hope to ignite a spontaneous student rebellion.

But the Nazi attitude toward the reversal of Germany's fortunes on the battlefield is one of enraged denial. The shrill accusations leveled against Sophie and two of the other accused in the interrogation room and in court by the fulminating judge, Dr. Roland Freisler (André Hennicke), have a tone of desperate, hysterical fury.

"Sophie Scholl: The Final Days" pointedly steers away from unnecessary melodrama and sentimentality to deliver a crisp chronology of events told entirely from Sophie's perspective, with minimal back story. As the brother and sister race to distribute the leaflets, the movie refuses to underline the built-in suspense. Apprehended by an alert janitor just as they are blending into a milling crowd of students, they are hustled to Gestapo headquarters and interrogated separately.

As Sophie undergoes the first grueling hours of minute cross-examination by Robert Mohr (Alexander Held), an icy, contemptuous criminologist with a mind Columbo might envy, she maintains a remarkable composure, insisting that she is apolitical and relating an elaborate cover story involving the transportation of laundry in the suitcase that carried the leaflets.

Sophie wins the first round of this cat-and-mouse game and is about to be released when investigators searching her apartment turn up more incriminating evidence. Even after her story crumbles, Mohr, who has a son roughly Sophie's age, is not entirely unmoved by her arguments, and near the end of her confinement, he offers her an unacceptable deal to save her own life. At each turning point, Sophie, who is deeply religious, prays to God for help.

On learning that Hans has confessed, she finally admits her complicity but continues trying to protect other members of the group, especially Christoph Probst (Florian Stetter), who is married with children. But eventually he is brought into custody.

We meet Sophie's sympathetic cellmate, Else Gebel (Johanna Gastdorf), an avowed Communist, and Sophie's supportive parents, who cheer her on in a subdued, wrenching farewell. Ms. Jentsch's portrayal of Sophie is the more impressive for its complete lack of histrionics. Yes, Sophie is a heroine, but not one given to Joan of Arc-style theatrics. An optimistic, life-loving student with a boyfriend and a rich future ahead of her, she is the kind of decent, principled person we would all like to be.

(The New York Times, 17 February 2006).