Friday, October 28, 2005

SOPHIE SCHOLL - THE LAST DAYS - hard work but essential viewing

SOPHIE SCHOLL - THE LAST DAYS/Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage is hard work. The subject matter is grim - all the more so because it really is a true story. The director, screen-writer, cinematographer and editor also take pains not to add any artificial suspense or plotting. What we have is a straightforward narrative in which not much actually happens. The film opens with a young woman called Sophie and her brother Hans printing anti-Nazi leaflets in a cellar. In the final days of World War Two envelopes have become scarce, so Hans decides that he will distribute this incendiary material by hand in the university in Munich. The next day, Sophie and Hans take the leaflets to the university but are caught in the act. So begins the main bulk of the film, which is the interrogation of Sophie by a man named Mohr. Her confession is extracted over many long conversations. The exchanges are fascinating - albeit dry rather than overtly dramatic. This has to be the right choice. Julia Jentsch (previously seen in the UK in The Edukators) portrays Sophie as steadfast and brave. Mohr is not a stereo-typical screaming Nazi but a man who utterly believes he is acting for the best and simply cannot comprehend why such a smart girl persists in her error. The final, shorter section of film shows Sophie's trial and punishment. It is here that the inverted morality is most exposed - with a judge using phrases such as "decency". It is a degradation of justice.

As I said this is a film that treats historic fact with respect. As a result, the film provides little relief for the viewer. It is hard work, but rewarding. I also find it incredibly encouraging that with movies such as this, as well as IM TOTEN WINKEL - HITLERS SEKRETAERIN/
HITLER'S SECRETARY: BLIND SPOT and DER UNTERGANG/THE DOWNFALL, German film-makers are now able to engage fully with all aspects of the German war-time experience. Here is a genuine war-time heroine who chose bravely but also simply to follow her conscience. It makes, I feel, for essential viewing.

SOPHIE SCHOLL - THE LAST DAYS played at Berlin 2005 and has since opened in Germany, Austria and France. It opens in the UK today and in the US in February 2006.

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