With every new film about the Holocaust comes a fresh wrinkle in how we think about that definitive 20th-century event. Adding its own voice to the fray, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is a revisionist slant on the usual formula of the Nazis and the German people as intermingled, lockstep collaborators in the Final Solution. The film, which runs May 25-27 at the Panida (at 7:30 pm each night; in German with English subtitles) in Sandpoint, proposes a different view, of individual Germans who stood in opposition to the Nazis.
A 2006 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, Sophie Scholl manages to insert a compelling story and courtroom drama into what is, at times, a routine thriller. The film uses those suspenseful moments to buoy some of the less gripping ones and, in the end, offers a rewarding portrait of a German heroine.
The heroine is a 21-year-old Munich University student (Julia Jentsch, playing the title character), who, along with her brother, Hans (Fabian Hinrichs), forms part of the underground German resistance movement called the White Rose. A German Joan of Arc, Sophie is a national heroine and -- according to director Marc Rothemund -- a determined, proud, defiant young woman. She maintains her composure and belief in the righteousness of her cause, even while under interrogation.
The climactic event that gives Sophie her date with immortality comes in 1943 when she and Hans distribute anti-Hitler leaflets at Munich University and are arrested. In that heart-pounding portion of the film, Sophie and Hans prowl the empty hallways of the university, stacking the leaflets in neat piles for the students who will soon pour out of the classrooms. The tension mounts as the two appear to have completed their mission, but then return for one last task.
Aided by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek's gripping score, Rothemund has an ability to tighten the dramatic screws not only in action scenes, but also in the sustained, lower-key passages where a Nazi bureaucrat is determined to pry a confession from Sophie.
Sophie is then questioned at the Munich Nazi headquarters by Robert Mohr (Gerald Alexander Held), a former nobody-turned-Nazi "criminologist." Mohr's exalted position has given him a seemingly unshakable faith in the Nazi way, until Sophie begins to slowly chip away at it. The initial interrogation scenes are excruciating and engaging; the emotional fireworks are perfectly internalized and controlled. And the dialogue comes directly from recently uncovered Gestapo documents that contain transcripts of the interrogations and chart the last six days of Sophie's life.
Visibly checking her fear and anxiety at every step, clenching her hands in her lap and escaping to the bathroom when her feelings threaten to leak out, Sophie's stoicism is in marked contrast to her male interrogators -- the ranting, hysterical Nazis who bully and terrorize her at the Nazi headquarters and later at a show trial presided over by an imported Berlin "hanging" judge. Wearing a ceremonial red robe, Dr. Roland Freisler's (Andr & eacute; Hennicke) frothing denunciation of Sophie seems to indicate the Germans' building anxiety about their failed mission and a sense that a lot of the goose-steppers were beginning to lose the spring in their march.
The only thing that detracts from the dramatic contrast of heroine and heathens in this thoughtful film is the well-established stereotype of the hysterically screeching Nazi, already something of a film clich & eacute;. Surely there are better ways to convey malevolence than yet another reversion to flustered, spitting lunatics.
Sophie's German inquisitors -- steeped in the Nazi folklore of strong men and passive, childbearing women -- try to condescend. Mohr attempts to lessen her role in anti-state subordination and attempts to make her the hapless victim of her older brother's schemes. But Sophie refuses to play the demure, helpless woman to escape her fate. She stands alongside her brother in full accountability for the act of treason to the Nazis.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days; Not Rated; Directed by Marc Rothemund; Starring Julia Jentsch, Gerald Alexander Held, Fabian Hinrichs, MIchael Lonsdale