Friday, March 5, 2010
The White Rose (a.k.a.: Die Weiße Rose)
The beautiful Lena Stolze stars in this acclaimed feature based on the true story of five German students and their professor who formed a secret society dedicated to protesting the Nazi regime. Known collectively as the “White Rose”, the Munich-based group distributed anti-Hitler literature in a resistance effort which cost them their lives. Initially, the German government refused to allow the film to be shown abroad due to an epilogue which pointedly observed that the legal judgment condemning the White Rose society had never been rescinded. Ultimately, the political controversy surrounding Verhoeven's film directly caused the German government to officially invalidate the Nazi “People's Court” system that sentenced the group to death.
The movie opens with Sophie Scholl arriving in Munich on a train, to attend the university with her brother. Upon arrival she meets Hans’ close knit group friends and they kindly throw her a birthday party. Although she enjoys her classes, her newfound friends, she is none the wiser about her brother’s peculiar activities until she stumbles upon this eye opening leaflet written by the clandestine group, the White Rose. Sophie agrees with the leaflet and hangs onto it, and is stunned when she discovers that her brother is one of the authors of it. Despite the group’s opposition to allow her to take part, she forces her way in and runs errands for them, soon becoming a full-fledged member. The movie closely follows the groups escapades, from stealing paper to buying an enormous amount of stamps (which was forbidden and suspicious in the days of Nazi Germany) to the Scholl’s father’s arrest for making a derogatory comment against Hitler.
When the men of the group are sent to the eastern front, they must temporarily suspend their leaflet distribution until they return. Hans and his friends witness the execution of Jewish prisoners and it inspires them to continue their mission no matter what. While Hans is in the east, Sophie works at an ammunition factory and while she is working, she watches with satisfaction and foreign prisoner sabotage her work.
When the students return for the winter semester, they are faced with new challenges. The acceptance of two new members, Professor Huber and Gisela Schertling. The professor makes an excellent contribution of writing his own leaflet, however, there is a confrontation when it is edited. As for Gisela, she listens to a mandatory speech (which the core members of the White Rose skip) of Gauleiter Geisler and when he insults the female students with degrading and lewd comments, a spontaneous protest erupts from the majority of the students there.
With this new development, along with the dismal surrender at Stalingrad, Hans and Sophie decide to make the daring move of distributing the sixth leaflet at the university itself, in broad daylight. Their decision seals their fate. Observed by a custodian, they are reported and arrested, and interrogated. Within five days, they are executed.
For when it was made, the White Rose is a good movie but it is also a product of its time. It’s a little cheesy at times, considering the music and some of the melodramatic acting. To me the only convincing actor of the film was Ulrich Turkur who portrayed Willi Graf. He plays a relatively small roll but he is a fine actor. Counting this role, he has acted in three other movies based in Nazi Germany: “Bonhoeffer,” “Amen,” and “Stauffenberg.” Lena Stolze, who portrayed Sophie, did an okay job at displaying Sophie’s youth and enthusiasm; she looked the age and she even looked like the Sophie herself. But at times the character came across as silly as a young teen when she was in fact in her twenties. She failed to capture Sophie’s depth and inner strength. I wish to high heavens that somebody would remake this movie. A few years ago, Angelica Houston was working to bring the story to the big screen once again, but unfortunately it has fallen by the way side. Christina Ricci was slated to star as Sophie, Albert Finney was to be Robert Mohr, and Liam Neeson had a role as well. I think with the release of “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days” over in Germany, Angelica Houston opted not to go through with it. However, I hope (and sometimes pray) that she might revive this project.
During an argument between Hans and Sophie, Hans is without a shirt and it appears he is about to take a bath. In a scene closer to the end of the movie, Sophie is struggling to get into her sweater just as Hans enters the room.
There are three objectionable scenes that stick out in my mind. The first scene involves Sophie and her boyfriend Fritz, who is on leave and visiting her. As they kiss and are on the verge of sex, Sophie’s blouse is off and her bra is on, he is kissing her upper body. A disagreement prevents them from going any further. The second scene is of Hans and his current girlfriend Traute. They are outside and it is implied they just had sex, she is upset with him and struggling to get into her bra, and her bare chest is partially in view. The third scene is not sexual or romantic. It is when Hans and his friends are on the eastern front; they observe a group of Jewish men who are nude and awaiting their execution. There is one last scene, that isn’t sexual but it appeared odd to me. Days before Hans and Sophie pass out the final leaflet, Sophie goes to Hans when he is in his bed and climbs in beside him, and places her head on his chest. I know it was meant to be innocent, but in this day and age it was strange. Of course it could be possible that over in Europe siblings are more affectionate.
I don’t recall much violence, except for one part and no one is physically harmed. On one of their missions at night, the men of the group paint anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler slogans on walls and monuments. They are caught and to get away, one of the members knocks a can of paint onto the head of a Gestapo agent. Also, when protest erupts at the Gauleiter’s speech, the women are forcibly restrained and forbidden to leave. Angered by this action against the ladies, the men of the university burst through the doors and overtake the guards.
There is one use of the d-word and Sophie and her friend mention the s-word in singing a little ditty. The main language concern of this movie stems from the historic speech by Gauleiter Geisler. He not only states that women do not belong at the university, that they more useful birthing a son for Hitler and goes as far as offering one of his adjutants so that women could have an enjoyable experience.
Most of the members of the White Rose were professing Christians, but for the most part of the movie this is downplayed. There is a mention of the famous sermon by Count von Galen. He was a bishop of Munster and was the only clergyman to vehemently and publicly oppose the Nazi regime. Though Hitler and the Nazis had hoped to have von Galen arrested and sent to prison, the bishop could not be touched due to the devotion of his followers. The Scholl’s collected his sermons and passed them out as well. The most obvious reference to faith was close to the end of the movie, before the execution, when Sophie is speaking to her mother. Her mother reminds her of Jesus and Sophie encourages her mother to remember Him too.
For Further References:
Five Last Days (Fünf letzte Tage) (1982)- Details the last five days of Sophie Scholl’s life from the point of view of her cell mate, Else Gebel. This movie was actually made prior to “The White Rose” and by a different director. Unfortunately I have never watched it (it is difficult to find) but if you have a chance, I suggest you see it.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005)- In my personal opinion, this is the best movie ever made on Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. It follows the final days of Sophie Scholl’s life; the distribution of the leaflets at the university, arrest, interrogations, trial and ultimately her death. The director and scriptwriter delved into the personal lives of the White Rose members, the transcripts of the interrogations, letters, interviews, biographies, etc. The psychological and intellectual battles between Sophie and Gestapo agent Robert Mohr are superb. I command you to watch this; you’ll walk away a different person.
“The Rose of Treason,” by James DeVita- A play based on the White Rose group and their activities.
“Sophie Scholl and the White Rose,” by Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn- (originally titled, “Shattering the German Night”) a newly re-released biography on Sophie Scholl, her life and involvement with the White Rose.
“Ceremony of Innocence,” by James D. Forman- A bio-fiction on Hans Scholl, written in the 1970’s. Although it is entertaining, newly discovered facts on Hans and the White Rose makes this book dated.
“A Nobel Treason,” by Richard Hanser- A fantastic non-fiction book on the White Rose and the personal lives of those involved in the group. Much detail, I highly recommend it.
“Sophie Scholl: The Real Story Behind Germany’s Resistance Heroine,” by Frank McDonough- A new biography on Sophie Scholl, nicely written but I wish it were longer and that it went deeper on her personal life, and reasons for joining the White Rose.
“At the Heart of the White Rose,” by Hans and Sophie Scholl- The diaries and letters of Hans and Sophie Scholl. Although obviously pre-selected and edited, it delves into their hearts and minds and their motives of why the White Rose was formed.
“The White Rose,” by Inge Scholl (originally, “Students Against Tyranny”)- The original book to shed light on the resistance group, written by Hans and Sophie’s older sister, Inge. A must read for any White Rose enthusiast.
“The Short Life of Sophie Scholl,” by Hermann Vinke- A nice biography on Sophie, I wish I could complement it more but it has been awhile since I’ve read it.