Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Sophie Scholl - the last days

Set in Munich 1943 a group of students known as The White Rose publish leaflets and daub graffiti on walls calling for an end to the war and the overthrow of Hitler. Their means are always peaceful, but the campus is full of informers and the Gestapo are everywhere. Sophie Scholl is a leading member of the group. The film tells her story over the course of six days after she is seen by a janitor at the university distributing seditious leaflets. The story is told from her perspective and we know only what she knows and see only what she sees. Julia Jentsch plays the title role in a strong performance and this film is further evidence of the healthy and dynamic state that German film-making is in these days. It's very very good - it was nominated for the best foreign language film Oscar in 2005.

As Sophie is interrogated the camera goes in close on her hand wringing as she duels with the investigator who is seeking her confession and the names of her accomplices. We see that her interrogator notices her body language, but we are never given an indication of how he reads it. She is at times economical with the truth and invents alibis - but the stakes are high. She argues that the National Socialists (Nazis) who came to power on the back of laws allowing them free expression cannot then deny German people free expression if they disagree with the state line.

Sophie and her brother are charged with high treason and after her brother finally confesses so does she. In the ongoing interrogation she pits her will against Nazi ideology and her interrogator has to perform impossible intellectual gymnastics that defy logic simply to create an answer the force of which lies solely in the fact that he can shout more loudly than her. Sophie's quest is for freedom of thought and expression, for an end to the killing of women and children, an end to the death camps, an end to blind and unthinking fascism. Her interrogator can only see a return to Germany being the down-at-heel puppy dog to the rest of the world as he refers to the "stinking" Versailles Treaty which gave rise to the Weimar Republic.

In the end she signs her own confession and the consequences are inevitable. The court and judge are shown to the epitome of the caricature you would expect. Sophie, her brother and a third accomplice are beheaded that same day. Brutal. But then war is. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed is Sophie Scholl.

An important story - one to set alongside Valkyrie.

As a story 11/10. As a film 7/10.

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