It was initially pretty funny how, the year after Downfall’s conspicuous success, Germany selected this second-rate Third Reich heartstring-tugger as their entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. But then the Academy actually went and nominated it, so apparently the joke’s on us.
A cast of lookalikes stars as the most photogenic resistance group of the Nazi era — the Munich-based, White Rose Movement. After a minimalist sketch of the Movement’s familiar backstory, Rothemund stages the arrest of Sophie (Juila Jenst, in a strategically interior performance) and brother Hans for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets, and the interrogation-room breakdown of Sophie’s nearly airtight alibi, in his most tersely effective sequences. Rothemund’s approach is economical, shoestring sets necessitating smartly sparse mis en scene and editing; the dialogue, though, especially when the narrative progresses to Sophie’s religious steadfastness in the face of her show trial and execution, is unfortunately stripped of nuance. Supposedly the most awkwardly didactic moments — particularly the spittle-flecked ravings of the trial judge — result from Rothemund hewing closely to the historical record (this hardly excuses the pandering dial-a-score); still, the only people likely to be impressed with Sophie Scholl’s endlessly earnest rhetoric are the discerning members of the Academy
Opens February 17 at Film Forum