Cinema Signal:

See No Evil:
The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism
by Robert Baer

. "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days"

A sub-genre of the nazi war movie seems to be taking the form of the polemic, an argument of logic and competing ideologies between master and condemned. A primary example, if not the instigator, is Volker Schlondorff's "The Ninth Day" in which a Nazi official tries to convince a priest, through argument and subtle coercion, to help their cause. Two men in a room, mostly, in a combat of convictions through debate.

Perhaps "Sophie Scholl" owes something to Schlondorff's success -- for its existence as a story with an argument between Nazi and anti-Nazi at its core. Sophie (Julia Jentsch) and brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs) are part of an underground resistance movement in Munich in 1943. Calling themselves the White Rose, the group has printed anti-Hitler pamphlets for which a limited number of stamps and envelopes are available. Sophie and Hans volunteer to distribute the remaining 1,000 or so around the halls and corridors of the university.

But, they're caught, and quickly placed in cells by the gestapo. The lengthy interrogation of Sophie by Nazi criminologist Robert Mohr (Alexander Held) becomes the core of Sophie's tragic story. A woman of strong will and uncompromising clarity of vision, she attempts to obfuscate her inquisitor with claims of being apolitical, until fingerprint and other evidence points to her and her brother's irrefutable complicity.

When she finally confesses, she voices the logic and need for her message, something she sees as a dire necessity for Germany. She explains her understanding that the massive Nazi loss in the Battle of Stalingrad has crippled the Nazi army and Germany's hopes to win the war. It is now only a matter of time before hopelessness is recognized and none too soon to rehabilitate the country. Its only salvation is for the people to oust Hitler and his regime before they drive Germany into the abyss of annihilation and global condemnation.

While maintaining the party line like a good Nazi, Mohr nevertheless exposes a wider perspective and deeper feeling than that of a stereotypical official. His humanity in fearing for the penalty that lies ahead for his elusive, attractive subject in the prime of her life is expressed, in part, by trying to save her with a recantation. She, of course, maintains her convictions even if it involves the ultimate sacrifice.

Sophie shares a cell with a sympathetic woman, (Johanna Gastdorf) to whom she expresses her fears, especially for the life of her brother. When Sophie is scheduled to face the Nazi court for a taste of Reich justice, the woman consoles her with the thought that, even if the worst occurs, they give those condemned at least 99 days before execution. Would that it were so for this heroine.

The story is derived from the annals of the Nazi regime itself, in the form of the original interrogation records. Director Marc Rothemund and writer Fred Breinersdorfer take pains to adapt the cold written account into an accurate and well crafted classic tale of civil courage that is Germany's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film (2005).

Bringing the now iconic figure of prescience and sacrifice to glowing life and understanding is Germany's answer to, say, Naomi Watts. The power of the incident rests entirely on Jentsch's unadorned naturalness, a quality that served her well in a comedic context in "The Edukators." This is an actress to watch.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Julia Jentsch as Sophie Scholl
Before the bar of Nazi justice
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