Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage) is a dramatization of the last days of Sophie Scholl's life. Who is Sophie Scholl, you ask? She was one of the most famous members of the resistance against the Nazis in World War II. In 1943, she was executed, but not before she went through laborious interrogation sequences.
A German film, Sophie Scholl was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture, and deservedly so. Starring a great, relatively unknown cast (at least to American eyes), the movie is a riveting and well-paced drama despite the fact that most of the film simply takes place in an interrogation room. The movie is very dialogue heavy, but as with all good foreign films the subtitles soon blend into the background to the point where you don't even notice the movie is in another language.
Because the movie is dialogue-driven, a good cast was needed to properly carry the scenes from beginning to end. Julia Jentsch does a tremendously good job of nearly single-handedly carrying the film. Her version of Scholl is very basic, very subdued, yet at the same time strong and emotional. Since it's a foreign film it is much easier to notice the non-verbal mannerisms of the actor, and Jentsch's performance is quite brilliant. Her character always carries this innocence about her, even though she and everyone else knows that she is indeed guilty of the crime charged against her (printing and distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets). She never cries, but you can see the sadness in her eyes, and at the same time she carries a defiance without actually revealing it in a blatant way.
She is counteracted with a great performance by Gerald Held, who plays the interrogator. This is a role that could have so easily become just like the rest, an uninteresting and ruthless character with no remorse and no emotion. Instead, Held tiptoes along that fine line of being a Nazi interrogator but at the same time being a human being. He is strong in his beliefs, or at least determined to do his job, but somewhere deep inside he knows that there is something wrong with putting a girl to death who simply distributed papers that discuss what she believes.
Sophie Scholl is just one of a series of recent World War II films to come out of Europe in the last few years, and they seem to be getting better and better. It is amazing that after sixty years there are still stories to be told (granted, the story of Sophie Scholl has been told before), but then again so many lives were affected by the war, and there are so many perspectives on the war. The movie isn't as gripping as last year's Downfall, but then again it isn't supposed to be a war film per se - Sophie Scholl looks at a person stuck in a war and fighting for what she believes in.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is one of the better films of 2005.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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