Sophie Scholl

The true story of Germany's most famous anti-Nazi heroine is brought with tact and intelligence but no excitement in Marc Rothemund's drama “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days,” Germany's official Foreign-Language selection for the 2005 Oscars.

Anchored by a strong performance from Julia Jetsch (who was also excellent in “The Edukators”), as the young co-ed-turned fearless activist, the film recreates the last six days of her life, from arrest to interrogation, trial, and sentence.

In 1943, as Hitler continues to wage war across Europe, a group of college students in Munich mount an underground resistance movement. Dedicated expressly to the downfall of the monolithic Third Reich war machine, they call themselves “the White
Rose.”

Sophie is known in Germany as a rare example of a Nazi-era German heroine. One of the few female movement members, Sophie is captured in February 1943, 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 Sophie delivers a passionate call to freedom and personal responsibility that's both haunting and timeless.

The story of Sophie Scholl has been told on screen before. In 1982, two films came out about Sophie's harrowing story: “The White Rose” and “The Five Last Days,” both starred the same actress, Lena Stolze. Obviously Rothemund believes there is a new generation of filmgoers who has not heard about his heroine, and his film also benefits the recent unearthing of the transcripts of Sophie's interrogation by Nazi officer
Robert Mohr.

Indeed, most of the film consists of lengthy conversations between Sophie and Mohr, which offers some new insights about Sophie's personality, background, motivation and activities. According to the filmmakers, are mostly verbatim from the transcripts, but they don't make for a good cinematic drama. Throughout the film, there's irreconcilable strain between the goal of historical accuracy (presenting the historical facts as closely and faithfully as possible) and making a riveting and engaging dramatic feature. Ultimately, unlike last year's “Downfall,” about Hitler's last days, “Sophie Scholl” works better as an expose that involves its viewers on a cerebral rather than emotional level.

A verbal-ideological tension prevails between the two characters that could not have been more different. Mohr is an older Nazi officer who believes in the regime and the whole rational and legal system behind it. In contrast, Sophie is a young, idealistic student who believes that Germany is losing the war against Russia. The White Rose protests the German regime totalitarianism, its oppressing and suppressing any dissident voice.

For American audiences, “Sophie Scholl” might prove too verbose, though the ideas exchanged between Mohr and Scholl are powerful. Hollywood movies have become notorious in their anti-intellectualism, so here is a chance for intelligent viewers to watch a movie of ideas.
The direction is simple and straightforward, mostly servicing the dialogue, which is the film's key element. You don't have to be a semiotician to observe the metaphorical use of doors and windows as prison-like walls and the occasional outdoor lighting that contrasts with the dark room where Sophie is interrogated but also offers glimpse of a better future.

Julia Jentsch, the Berliner actress, gives a riveting performance that overcomes the film's shortcomingsup to a point. Her performance has already won her the Silver Bear for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival, which also honored director Rothemund.

The entire cast is excellent, including Fabian Hinrichs as Hans Scholl, Alexander (“Downfall”), as the Gestapo interrogator Mohr, Andre Hennicke as Judge Roland Freiser, and Johanna Gasdorf, who shines as Sophie's cellmate, Else Gebel.

“Sophie Scholl” has received three Lolas (the German Oscars) and Jentsch was singled out earlier this month with the top acting prize from the European Academy of Film.