An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis
Please see “Sophie Scholl.” Because it is subtitled and is up for an Oscar as “Best foreign Language Film,” it won’t reach the audience it deserves. This extraordinary film will play the independent movie theaters and move to video, where I urge you with all the rhetoric at my command to find it and watch it – carefully and thoughtfully.
Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and a very few of their fellow students formed the German resistance group “The White Rose” during World War II. At the moment when Hitler had shut down all radio and newspaper communication within Germany, this student group acquired the classic means of communication: a printing press. In 1943 these students printed and distributed leaflets at Munich University urging the Nazi leaders to end a war already lost. They were seen, caught, and brought, each to a separate room, for interrogation. Under a special wartime law, their sentence would be prison or death. Sophie is 21.
The verbal duel between Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch in the finest performance of this year) and her interrogator is a masterpiece of belief and heart. With exacting consistency, the bright young woman doesn’t crack until her brother confesses, even when confronted with evidence. There is a genuinely split second now and then when she must improvise, and she does – perfectly. So resourceful is she in protecting her family and peers, that it infuriates Robert Mohr (Alexander Held), her questioner. He wants names. Where did the money for 10,000 leaflets come from? Who else was in The White Rose?
Sophie is tried in the People’s Court in Munich. The prosecutor is a former Communist trying to rehabilitate himself in front of a courtroom of Nazi officers. Facing a bust of Hitler and a black Nazi flag, Sophie testifies with complete acceptance of the consequences of her acts. The sight of the executions is handled off screen; the audio is handled in a way that will never, ever leave your mind. The silence and the sound are a primal howl that this extraordinary girl saw at 21 that loss of freedom of the press had allowed Hitler to destroy her country. There is a chilling relevance to this movie at this time when the language of dissent is under attack in America.
Julia Jentsch and the emotional director attended the screening I saw. Mr. Rothemund said quietly: “there was a guillotine in every Gestapo headquarters.” It was Marc Rothemund who found the transcripts of the interrogation and trial, hidden until recently when they were transferred to Berlin. Rothemund’s empathy and his obsession with accuracy allowed him to succeed in using the transcripts to hew closely to the facts of this history. Before this film, Germans thought of Hans and Sophie Scholl as martyrs, but no one knew until these transcripts emerged of the courage and emotional villainy that met during the interrogation in the Gestapo headquarters in 1943.
Copyright (c) Illusion
Return to Ellis Home Page