Netflix finally sent a movie whose queue we’d been in for years (they must have only a single copy), and wouldn’t you know, it arrived the same week we saw another based-on-a-true-story German-subtitled movie about World War II, Labyrinth of Lies. But you don’t have to wait so long, the entire 2005 Scholl movie is available on YouTube, or you can watch this snippet (trailer).
Sophie Scholl, age 21, her older brother Hans, and several of their friends were students in Munich during the war and participated in a non-violent resistance organization called The White Rose. It was 1943. Stalingrad had just been lost, the Eastern Front was a disaster, and most German military leaders saw inevitable looming defeat. It was in that atmosphere that Sophie and her brother are arrested for distributing anti-war flyers at the university, and the movie focuses on her interrogation by the Gestapo. It doesn’t involve the thuggish violence one might expect; rather, it’s a duel of wits between Sophie and her interrogator, Robert Mohr, as she refuses to name accomplices.
Raised a Lutheran, Sophie’s religious beliefs were the basis for her opposition to the Nazi regime. In addition, her boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel who served on the Eastern Front had written to her about the mass murders of Soviet soldiers and Jews that he had seen. Her final words illustrate the strength of her convictions: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”
Although the law and the punishment are clear, what is also clear is that Mohr (played by Gerald Held) comes to respect Sophie’s courage, as played so movingly by Julia Jentsch. You might be tempted to think that when the defendants appear in the People’s Court for their show trial, the court’s President is played too broadly, like a hysterical fanatic. Watch the “extras” that accompany the film—and you’ll see some footage made at the trial. The actor playing the judge got it exactly right. As Roger Ebert said in his review: “Those who know their actions are wrong are often the loudest to defend them, especially when they fear a higher moral judgment may come down on them.” The extras include a lengthy interview with Sophie and Hans’s younger sister, Elisabeth, as well. Today, in Munich and elsewhere, there are numerous memorials to Sophie and Hans and The White Rose.
This award-winning film, directed by Marc Rothemund, was an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in 2005.
Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 87%, audiences: 88%.