Choice Sophie

Washington City Paper | March 27, 2006
As a real-life resister of Nazi tyranny who was guillotined for her role in distributing anti-government pamphlets, Sophie Scholl is a heroine for the ages. As a character in German movies, however, she’s problematic. Her historical presence italicized by the silver screen, Scholl seems to personify a principled, broad-based German anti-Nazi movement that, in fact, did not exist. Her cinematic self flatters the nation that murdered her, which may be why she and her cohorts in the tiny Munich student group the White Rose have been the subject of three German films since 1982. That year, in fact, Lena Stolze played Scholl twice, in both Michael Verhoeven’s The White Rose and Percy Adlon’s Last Five Days.

Director Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl: The Final Days returns to the story line of the latter film but with documentary justification: Fred Breinersdorfer’s script draws heavily on recently unearthed transcripts of the Gestapo’s questioning of Scholl. The new docudrama opens with the title character (Julia Jentsch, who co-starred with Joyeux Noël’s Brühl in last year’s The Edukators) and a pal singing along to an American jazz tune, and it uses contemporary Eurocinema techniques—handheld camera, quick cuts, techno-thump music—to evoke the moment in February 1943 when Scholl and her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs) were arrested for distributing fliers in a university-building atrium. The rest of the story is confined to the German prison where Scholl was questioned, tried, sentenced, and executed.

There are scenes of Scholl with Hans and fellow White Rose member Christoph Probst (Florian Stetter), her parents, and her Communist cellmate, Else Gebel (Johanna Gastdorf), as well as in a courtroom overseen by a shrill Nazi judge (André Hennicke). But Scholl’s principal foil is her interrogator, Robert Mohr (Alexander Held), who seems motivated as much by condescension as by compassion when he tries to get the young woman to downgrade her responsibility for the leaflets. Mohr is, of course, an atheist, and Scholl unsurprisingly turns to God for the strength to make stirring statements against the mass derangement of Nazism. It’s a setup that recalls last year’s The Ninth Day, the Volker Schlöndorff two-hander in which an SS officer jousts with a Catholic priest.

Rothemund is reportedly not religious, and this is not a Christian propaganda film. Scholl’s faith was essential to her anti-Nazi opinions and actions, and it inspired such rousing statements as the one she delivers to her maniacal judge: “You will soon be standing where we stand now.” Jentsch is persuasive as the playful 21-year-old who would never for an instant consider abandoning her principles, and sentimentality is kept in check even as Scholl approaches her death with a too-serene smile. Aside from that unconvincing expression, the only thing in the film that seems overstated is Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil’s score, which pumps the drama where no supplemental emotion is required.

Yet Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, also a 2006 best-foreign-film Oscar runner-up, fails to click for two reasons, one practical and the other conceptual. Despite the discovery of the interrogation transcripts, the movie doesn’t really add anything to The White Rose, a powerful account that borders on the definitive. And, as in The Ninth Day, the implication that Christianity offered a viable alternative to Nazism is a weak exercise in rationalization: Scholl’s interrogator might have been an atheist, but most Nazi supporters were believers steeped in centuries of Christian anti-Semitism. It’s fitting that this movie depicts Scholl in her solitary last days, for she and her small band of fellow seditionaries were the lonely vanguard of an anti-Nazi movement that never arrived.

Washington City Paper

In a city where a great deal of attention is focused on national affairs, Washington City Paper maintains a relentless emphasis on local Washington. City Paper serves as the definitive local guide to cultural and civic life in the District...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 1400 I St. NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005
  • Phone: (202) 332-2100