By John Esther
The stuff of legend in Germany, Sophie Scholl's last days on earth are closely examined in Marc Rothemund's Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Sophie Scholl: Die letzen Tage). Featuring a powerful performance by Julia Jentsch as the titular character, Scholl was part of an underground student movement who opposed the Third Reich. Known as the White Rose, Sophie - the group's sole female member - along with her brother, Hans (Fabian Hinrichs), and others have become symbols of civil disobedience for Germans and many non-Germans alike.
Rather than focus on the political development of the group itself, which Michael Verhoeven did in his 1982 film, Die weisse Rose (The White Rose), or tell the story of the group's last five days from an outside point of view, which Percy Adlon did in his film that same year, Fï¿½nf letze Tage (The Last Five Days), this film focuses on Scholl's last six days (February 17 to 22, 1943), based on her own recorded testimony and supplemented with the testimony of others.
Co-written by Fred Breinersdorfer and Rothemund, the story covers the time from when Scholl and others created anti-Nazi pamphlets and were caught distributing them to her arrest, interrogation, trial and execution. The most engaging aspect of the film is her interrogation, which was conducted by Robert Mohr (Alexander Held), a collaborator who believed in upholding the law no matter who was writing it. It is a battle of wills and wits, and Scholl is not above distorting the truth to save her life.
Relatively new to the public discourse on Scholl's life, the documents this film is based on were originally sent to Moscow after the Russians conquered Berlin towards the end of World War II. The confiscated documents were then sent to East Berlin where they remained hidden until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days has won numerous awards including the German equivalent of the Oscar for Jentsch's performance. Recently it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The Berlin-born Jentsch, 28, was recently seen in the US in the 2004 films Downfall (Der Untergang) and The Edukators (Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei) as Hanna Potrowski and Julie respectively. Her other credits include Hans W. Geissendï¿½fer's 2005 film, Snowland (Schneeland) and Christoph Stark's Julietta (2001).
Rothemund began his career as an assistant director before making his first feature film, Love Scenes from Planet Earth (Das Merwï¿½rdige Verhalten Geschlechtsreifer Grossstï¿½dter Zur Paarungszeit) in 1998. This was followed by the very popular, Just the Two of Us (Harte Jungs) in 1999. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is his third feature.
I interviewed Jentsch and Rothemund in Los Angeles back in November when their film appeared at the AFI Film Festival.
The records were found in 1990. Why did it take so long for the film to be made?
Marc Rothemund: All these documents about the interrogations, the trial and the execution were sent to Moscow after the Russians conquered Berlin. They sent them to East Berlin. They checked and said, "Oh, student resistance, pacifists, human rights and freedom of speech. That's not good for our communist system." They hid it. After reunification, they were transported to the Federal German Archive. It was 1990. It was the end of the Cold War. The Germans were very busy with East Germany, West Germany and the political stuff. Their minds were not open enough to look at the past. They were so busy growing together that nobody could think about the documents that tell a story about wartime. Now fifteen years later, Germany has grown together. It is no longer East and West, and I think the grandchildren of the Nazis are starting to ask questions about the time of their grandparents.
In terms of engaging the audience, what dramatic concerns did you have about focusing on the last days?
Rothemund: In 1982, Michael Verhoeven made Die weisse Rose and it was about the whole group. I didn't want to do a remake. It's a great movie based on very good research. And three years ago, there was the 60-year anniversary of Sophie Scholl's death. In Germany there are 190 schools named after Sophie Scholl. She is a hero. When I started my research, I found out Sophie Scholl had spent four days at Gestapo headquarters for distributing leaflets calling for passive resistance and human rights. I was so surprised that these documents were lying there for forty years and nobody was interested. German historians are [conflicted] between annoyance and shame.
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