Running Time: 116 minutes.
Rated: Rated M.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is an impressive film which is hard to dislodge from the memory once it has been seen. Set in Munich in 1943 when German forces faced crippling defeat by the Russians at Stalingrad, this modestly made film eschews large crowd scenes and elaborate costumes and sets, to portray with quiet power the arrest, trial, and conviction for high treason of Sophie Scholl (superbly played by Julia Jentsch), a lively and intelligent young biology and philosophy student at Munich University, who was a member of the student resistance cell, White Rose.
The White Rose was founded in 1942 by Sophie's brother Hans Scholl (Fabian Hinrichs), a medical student who for a time fought against the Russians on the Eastern Front. His experiences convinced him and other medical students and soldiers - Willi Graf (Maximilian Bruchner), a devout Catholic, Alexander Schmorell (Johannes Suhm), a talented artist and musician, and Christoph Probst (Florian Stetter), a young father of three - that Hitler's inhuman social policies were immoral and wrong.
Sophie was an active member of the cell, and when the film begins, is seen with others editing and printing the sixth of a series of pamphlets expressing disgust with Hitler's inhuman policies, and calling for the overthrow of the Third Reich.
Not fully mindful of the risks they were taking, Sophie and Hans set out from their apartment to distribute pamphlets at the University before classes begin, and the city exudes a spurious normality - Germany in denial. The streets are deserted with only the barest fluttering of flags, while inside the University, depicted as an empty palace of learning, Sophie and Hans dart here and there , placing pamphlets on marble balustrades and floors.
As the corridors spill with students, and pamphlets flutter to the ground from where Sophie has impulsively pushed them, the shrill voice of the university's Nazi janitor cries out. Within minutes the Gestapo are called, and Sophie and Hans are taken to police headquarters for questioning.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days recreates the last six days in Sophie's life, during which time she, her brother Hans and Christoph Probst, are interrogated about their subversive activities. Detained in a civilian cell, Sophie is watched over by a political prisoner, Else Gebel (Johanna Gastdorf), and is exhorted by her interrogator, Robert Mohr (Alexander Held), to betray her political colleagues.
But Sophie confounds Mohr, a country policeman elevated to a position of power within the Gestapo, not just by her courage and defiance, but by her cool-headed intelligence and the clarity of her vision: her rejection on the grounds of her Christian beliefs of everything that Nazism stands for, Hitler's war, the murder of the Jews in Poland, and the practice of eugenics.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is a powerful film because it is made with integrity, and speaks not only about yesterday, but today and tomorrow. It recreates from recently obtained historical documents not only Sophie's interrogation, but her trial, sentencing, and execution by guillotine, along with Hans and Christoph, by the so-called 'People's Court', presided over by the hysterical, Goebbels-like, Dr Roland Freisler (André Hennicke).
Sophie claims in her defence that what they wrote in their pamphlets is only what people are too fearful of saying in public. 'You will soon be standing where we stand now,' she tells him presciently.
Two German films of the 1980s have previously been made about the White Rose dissenters, Michael Verhoeven's The White Rose and Percy Adlon's The Last Five Days. But Sophie Scholl is the first to present so plainly and unequivocally the lesson to be learnt for our own times, that dissent is essential to democracy and freedom, and that great courage is required to resist and oppose totalitarianism.
Jan Epstein is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.