New Jersey Jewish News
An emotional journey
The desire to tell an international audience about the story of a real-life anti-Nazi heroine drove Marc Rothemunds direction of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.
The German director discussed the film at a recent pre-release screening in New Jersey. Sophie Scholl tells the story of the last six days in the life of the college student/activist who was interrogated, tried, sentenced, and executed by a Nazi court. The film, which opened around the country Feb. 24, received three Lolas (German Oscars), including the Audience Award and Best Actress Award for Julia Jentsch as Sophie. It also won two Silver Bears for Best Director and Best Actress at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival and is an Oscar nominee this year for Best Foreign Language Film.
Rothemund fielded questions and comments from the audience at a screening earlier this month at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank hosted by New Jerseys Filmmakers Symposium. The films dialogue is based on actual court transcripts, historical records, and minutes compiled during Scholls Gestapo interrogation that took Rothemund years to collect. Rothemund said he also interviewed many of Scholls surviving relatives and friends, as well as the 83-year-old son of her chief interrogator.
Rothemund was also able to obtain a copy of a 14-page letter that Scholls cellmate wrote to Scholls parents, along with records of the legal proceedings that resulted in her execution.
I was only going to do this movie if her relatives, members of the White Rose, and [others] could tell me that the words were true and the actions were true, said Rothemund at the conclusion of the screening. There was no room for compromise on this.
In 1943, a group of university students in Munich known as the White Rose was part of an underground resistance movement that sought to undermine the Hitler regime. Sophie Scholl, one of the groups few female members, and her brother, Hans, were captured by the Gestapo while distributing subversive pamphlets on their college campus. The film recreates the final days of Scholls life as she prepares to meet her fate with the courage and fortitude that ruled her life, Rothemund said.
His quest for authenticity followed him throughout the filming process. My mantra was, Is it true? Will people believe this? Do I believe it? Does it touch your heart? I was always doubting myself, Rothemund said. It was an emotional journey.
The emotional aspect was the most important one for me, said Rothemund. I was astonished by the dialogue in all the records and documents.
However, Rothemund steered away from blatant topical references in the film; there are few uniforms or swastikas and no depiction of goose-stepping soldiers. Austere sets were created that would not distract the audience.
It was important that nothing interfere with the eye-line between the audience and the actress, he said. This was the most effective way for Julia/Sophie to share her feelings. There could be no distractions. This was an emotional, not a political, journey.
Scholls story is now much heralded in Germany; there are 190 German schools that bear her name, and poll results regularly place Sophie and Hans Scholl among the most admired Germans of all time, according to Rothemund. However, he acknowledged, the story has taken many years to reach the screen.
If [German] society had wanted to know, they could have known what was happening, he said. But there was much resistance to this until recently. Its been easier to reach this new, younger generation of Germans. I think the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War have contributed to this. Its easier now for grandchildren to ask their grandparents about what went on during the war. The documentation that I found has been available for years, but no one asked about it. No one was interested in it.
The courage and dedication to cause exhibited by Scholl and other members of the White Rose provide a valuable lesson for society in the 21st century, said Rothemund.
At the beginning of the film, before their capture, Sophies brother tells her that the campus will erupt that day as a result of their actions, he said. But he was wrong. The students at the university didnt rise up because of the pamphlets or because of what happened to them. The reaction came later, after the war. A long time later.
At her sentencing, Scholl tells the Nazi judge that one day he will stand where the defendants now stand. And, as she leaves her cell for the last time, Scholl leaves a note containing a single word freedom.
She even rejected a last-minute offer to save her life, because it would have meant betraying her own beliefs, Rothemund said. She said she had no regrets and that she would do it again. Only people who loved life so much could have given their lives in this manner.
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