Movie recommendation:

Sophie Scholl: The Last Days

My parents and I went to see this last Saturday, and we all came away very impressed. Sophie Scholl was a 21-year-old student in Munich in the early 1940s, and she and her brother were arrested in 1943 for distributing leaflets that detailed the failure of the Nazi army on the Russian front and the inability of Germany to win the war due to Hitler’s poor leadership. A large portion of the movie is taken up with Sophie’s interrogation by a Nazi police investigator, and even though it’s basically the two of them talking, it’s absolutely riveting. Sophie’s strength of character and steadfastness in her beliefs stymie the otherwise formidable investigator, and by the end it’s clear that although they will always be on opposite sides of the Nazi question, he has gained a grudging respect for her.

Julia Jentsch is incredible as Sophie, imbuing her with a quiet intensity that carries the movie along. The film itself is full of this quiet intensity…it hits all the necessary points, but doesn’t belabour any of them. There are no anvils here. It’s made clear that Sophie is a Christian, and she prays several times throughout the film. She knows the Nazis are perpetuating heinous acts against humanity, against the Jews in particular, and she doesn’t shy away from telling the investigator exactly what she thinks about that. But it’s also clear that her problems with Hitler are not only humanitarian, but also political…this girl is no bleeding heart, but clear-headed and able to see that Hitler is bad not only for Jews and other “undesirables”, but for Germany itself and the German people in general. This is a point of view that I don’t think has been terribly well-represented, certainly not in film.

The film is German with subtitles, but don’t let that scare you away. I know a lot of people who avoid foreign films like the plague, and I don’t understand why. a) American films are foreign in most of the world, and yet most of the world watches them. Why not reciprocate, see what they have to offer us in return? It’s the easiest way to experience another culture. b) You don’t avoid reading The Three Musketeers or Crime and Punishment because they weren’t written in English, and you don’t think of them as weird second-class citizens because they weren’t written by Americans; why is film any different? c) It’s an excellent bet that a foreign film seen in the US is going to be good. Why? Because we only import like 5% of any given country’s film output. Guess which 5% they’re going to send us? This is why movie critics often seem to like foreign films…they’re sending us their Schindler’s Lists and their American Beautys. They’re not sending us their Madea’s Family Reunions and their BloodRaynes. So forget this silly foreign-film aversion and go see some.

Start with Sophie Scholl. It’s playing at Plaza Frontenac right now, but they don’t keep them for more than a few weeks, so hurry. It’s not rated, but there’s nothing objectionable in it for children, though they might get antsy because it is a rather talky film.