Sophie Scholl - Die Letzten TageSince the turn of the millennium German cinema has seen somewhat of a revival and a coming of age as it were. A new generation of filmmakers were tackling issues like Nazism and Communism head-on for the very first time and it is a perfect illustration of how a nation has dealt with an incredible burden. The results have been some absolute classics: Good Bye Lenin, Der Untergang (Downfall), Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) and Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) have all received international attention and deservedly so. This film on the other hand has been much less publicised abroad despite an excellent reception within Germany. It is however an excellent accompaniment to all of the above and is highly recommendable for anyone remotely interested in films from the country.

As much a documentary as a dramatisation of actual events the film tells the story of the last days in the life of Sophie Scholl, one of the most famous anti-Nazi protesters during the war. She and her brother were members of the secret resistance movement The White Rose and together they distributed fliers at Munich university calling for a student revolt against the fascist regime. Soon after they are caught and placed before the Gestapo, questioned, tried and executed. In situations like this most screenwriters would take some creative liberties with events, shaping them into more a film-friendly structure. Not so in this case: The vast majority of the film’s dialogue is based on transcripts of the interrogation and trial as well as eye-witness accounts. In fact the only episode of pure fiction is an air raid on Munich witnessed by Sophie in her prison cell.

Much of the film’s power hinges on Julia Jentsch’s performance in the title role. She instils her character with an awesome sense of humanity and steely determination. The film never openly plays to our emotions – we are just presented with the events in a objective, almost cool manner. However this draws us in even more and we feel strongly for Sophie despite the initial lack of back story provided. Kudos must also go to Alexander Held who portrays her determinedly fascist interrogator Robert Mohr. All business at the start, his conscience is gradually shaken as interrogation turns to a battle of political ideologies. The cracks begin to show on Mohr yet Held keeps all this very subtle and the final shot of him watching Sophie being taken to her execution speaks volumes about the man’s emotions.

A possible weak point of the film may be the court scene and the stereotypical portrayal of judge Roland Freisler (André Hennicke). His performance looks almost overdone, exaggerated nearly to the point of the ridiculous. However research reveals that like the rest of the film the portrayal is horrifyingly accurate. Perhaps in the interest of a ‘better’ film some deviation from reality could have taken place here but that would have completely undermined the purpose of the entire film, namely to portray without any embellishments the suffering of the young woman, her brother and their friend.

Sophie Scholl OSTThe music for the film was co-composed by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. While it certainly fulfils its purpose of underplaying emotions on screen, this leaves it somewhat empty as a listening experience on its own. Varying between a harsh action cure of repeating string motives (somehow inappropriately reminding us of John Powell’s “Bourne” motif – as if we were watching a spy film) and a rather beautiful if minimalist theme played on piano. This second theme seems to represent Sophie’s sorrow and is repeated several times in the film.

As the film is readily available a film fan has no excuse not to see this.  That is not to say it’s for film fans only: History academics usually turn their noses up at historical adaptions but even they can’t complain here as it’s as close to reality as any film will ever get. In short the film is a gripping view.

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