Sophie Scholl – The Final Days

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For every tale of horror from WWII there’s an opposing tale of heroism; unfortunately, most of the tales are intertwined so that there is rarely heroism without horror. Sophie Scholl is yet another figure who I never heard about in school, a student revolutionary in the midst of one of the most unimaginable regimes in history, rebelling against a force which threatened to envelop the world. A stark tale of triumph and of trying, of struggling with little hope for victory, of driving for change against a tottering wall.

It would be very easy to make a very different type of film in our modern world of SJWs and general activism. Thankfully the filmmakers do not go down that route and instead portray the true events of the story in as genuine a way as possible, free from 21st Century opinion or hindsight. Sophie Scholl was the daughter of an anti-Nazi, liberal politician – herself becoming part of the White Rose resistance group. The film starts with Sophie at University in the middle of WWII, where she and her group have been making anti-Nazi leaflets and mailing them around Munich. Having made too many copies, Sophie’s brother Hans suggests that they distribute the remainder around the University. This is an incredibly risky move given that the Nazi’s control the University and if seen with the material the group could be arrested as dissidents. Being young and fearless and filled with passion, the group proceeds with the plan. In a tense scene, Sophie makes the fatal decision to scatter a large pile of the leaflets from the top floor of the University so that they fall to the ground for everyone to see.

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The rest of the film involves the interrogation and sham trial which Sophie and her friends are forced to go through. Accused with and eventually charged with treason, there was always only one way this story was going to end. Personally I knew nothing of this story and was hoping it would end differently. There are a few tense moments where it looks like Sophie might get away – she has a convincing alibi during her interrogation by Robert Mohr -only to be grabbed at the last minute. Mohr at least seems to sympathize with her position and doesn’t come across on screen as the monster you would have expected. But whether bound by law or position or belief, he cannot protect her and once sent to trial there is no escape. Scholl and her partners recognise the trial for what it is, and instead use it as a chance to point fingers at her accusers, namely the notorious Nazi Judge Roland Freisler, and remind them that Germany is losing the war. Although they offer rousing speeches, defences, and accusations which echo through time, it is not enough to save their lives.

This is an engaging film, though some may find it difficult to watch given that is based on true events. Julie Jentsch, so good in The Edukators, is again very strong here, and the cast all perform admirably. Obviously we know who won the war, and we are shown in the closing moments of the movie that the Allies received a copy of Sophie’s leaflet, made millions of copies, and dropped them from planes over Germany in one of the war’s greatest trolls. Although this looks and feels like a TV movie, it deserves the wider audience films such as Downfall and Black Book have received, and even though it was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 78th Academy Awards, it isn’t a film I ever see people talking about.

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Let us know in the comments if you have seen Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, and what you made of it. How does it rank along with other WWII, non-battle focused films you have seen?

Dead Snow

*Originally written in 2011

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In horror, there is a sub genre for all occasions. The Nazi-zombie sub-genre can be seen as a split off from both the zombie horror film, and from the Nazi horror film. While this little sewer of filth has seen its more than fair share of unmentionable crap, every so often a gem emerges, and Dead Snow is such a gem. Taking its cues from the best of 80’s splatter, it is a lighthearted, ultra-violent romp through the pistes of Norway and is packed with the sort of invention which Horror fans crave and all too often do not receive, especially in US releases.

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Dead Snow effectively picks up where Evil Dead 3 left off – even though there have been a flurry of ultra-violent horror comedies since the genre’s 80s peak, few have come close to hitting the fun, the spectacle, the inventiveness, or the quality of those we know and love. Dead Snow takes the best of those, carves its own brutal path, and updates for a 21st Century audience aiming to please both seasoned gore-hounds and those just setting out on their bloody descent. Apparently loosely based on Scandinavian myth, the film’s plot follows the tried and true trope of students trapped in a cabin far from any safe haven, and under siege from the undead. The undead here though are not simply mindless killers, but Nazi soldiers buried in the snow for decades and woken to presumably take back the treasure they believe to be their’s. There’s some mention of a curse, some references to vague histories, but the backstory of the bad guys is simply a tool to let the blood flow. Trying to survive the onslaught are a bunch of students, not the typical mix of jock, whore, nerd, virgin etc, but a less caricatured, less defined group of similar individuals. Once again, we don’t spend a lot of time getting to know them as they are simply there to run, hide, fight, kill, and die. Typically for these types of films that would be a notch in the negative column, but here we are barely afforded a moment to concern ourselves as the carnage doesn’t take long to begin. Each person is likable enough that they are not irritating, but neither are they well enough developed to truly care about, but their charm and humour at least make us root for them.

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In homage to the greats, we have a bunch of cliches on display but they are presented with love and in most cases flipped in such a way to make them seem fresh or to not allow us to be concerned that they are cliches; An old hermit gives us plenty of exposition; a chainsaw is never too far away; sex leads to death; dreams are portents and clues. Once the zombies begin their attack, the smile will rarely leave your face as both undead are living are dispatched in hilarious, original, and bloody fashion. The effects team does an excellent job and the director knows what the audience wants to see, keeping the action free-flowing and fast-moving. The acting is fine, though as the characters are fairly indistinguishable there isn’t a lot of room for any of them to emerge as an Ash or a Lionel.

Dead Snow is a film which is destined to continue to do well with international horror audiences jaded by the middle of the road bores or over the top, lacking in ideas or heart movies of Hollywood. If you have an interest in horror movies then this should be on your watch list, though I can’t recommend it for anyone who doesn’t have a strong stomach.

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Let us know in the comments what you made of Dead Snow and how you feel it compares with others of its ilk!

Perlasca: The Courage of A Just Man

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*Note – originally written on Amazon based on a free copy by Amazon

Like most other reviewers have commented here, I had never heard of Perlasca, though was always aware that there were likely very many unsung heroes during the war who did whatever they could to save lives and help in the struggle against the Nazis. The obvious comparisons with this show, and with the story, are with Schindler’s List, and I was worried that this would be a low-budget affair with too many cheap similarities. Thankfully, within the opening moments of the movie (split into two parts for Italian television) it is clear that a lot of money, effort, dedication, and love were put into making this. We get an action packed, tense opening to set the scene and introduce a few of the main characters and Morricone’s tragic, soaring score sets a high standard for miniseries/tv movies to follow. To summarise the story briefly will not do it any justice, but for those looking for such things this is the story of a man who, thanks to his past and position, struggles to save the lives of as many persecuted Jews as possible whilst simultaneously trying to get out of occupied Hungary and back home to his wife. Using his greatest powers – confidence, intrigue, persuasion, powerful allies, and of course great doses of fortune, he masterminds the saving of many lives.

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Everything about this production has a quality sheen to it, from the large cast who are, without exception, brilliant – to the sets, costumes, and directing. While there is humour and action in small doses, it is the heart-wrenching set pieces and the stand-offs Perlasca has with a variety of opponents which set this work aside from others as truly great. There are moments here which will fulfill any nail-biting, edge-of-seat requirements you may have, and at times the emotion, whilst never melodramatic or over played, is overwhelming. I should mention that I don’t think I recognised any of the cast members from anything else, but special praise goes to the lead- Luca Zingaretti as Perlasca. Those moments where he trades mind-game blows with those in the Nazi ranks only work because of his performance – in a lesser actors shoes we would neither be convinced that his actions would be taken seriously or that he was doing them not for selfish reasons. In spite of the emotional weight on his shoulders, he rarely allows himself to succumb to his emotions, and we can see him holding back at every turn, as an outburst would mean certain death. At times it does feel like his lucky streak is too unbelievable, but this is of course countered by the fact that everyone around him is dying, some of his attempts at rescue are futile, and we never see his ultimate goal – getting home. Special praise should also go to Gyorgy Cserhalmi as the charming, soulless Captain Bleiber and Amanda Sandrelli as Magda.

This is gripping viewing throughout, and feels like an ‘easier’ watch than Schindler’s List though I haven’t quite worked out why I feel this way. Perhaps the main characters are more likable, perhaps we have less of a focus on the Nazis, I’m not sure. Even though the content is similar, and both have horrific visuals, Schindler’s List is a colder film. I would advise anyone with an interest in WWII or war movies in general to give this a go, but of course be warned that there are plenty of scenes that will haunt you once seen, and while not graphic in any way, many may find them too upsetting.

What is your favourite WWII movie, or which film dealing with the Holocaust have you found the most powerful? Let us know in the comments!