The Nasty Girl Review
Beneath The Nasty Girl’s title card lies a piece of graffiti: “Where were you between ‘39 and ‘45? Where are you know?” The scrawl encapsulates the film in two simple questions, but the answers later given prove less easy to compress. The girl of the title is Lena Stolze, a teenager who becomes her small town’s favourite daughter following her first prize success in a countrywide essay writing competition. As a follow-up she focuses on the potential title ‘My Home Town in the Third Reich’ only to be met by the very same community with an input that is either unforthcoming or completely unwilling. With little or no help, the deadline passes and life goes on before. But despite marriage, children and secondary education, Stolze finds it impossible to ignore her abandoned project and instead aims to turn it into a book.
That The Nasty Girl focuses more on Stolze’s attempts to discover her town’s less than savoury past than it does on the past itself (there are no flashbacks or the like) demonstrates that writer-director Verhoeven’s sights are not so much on Nazi Germany but rather his homeland in its modern day state. Indeed, an opening disclaimer notes that although based on true events, The Nasty Girl is about “all German towns” not just one particular location. That this disclaimer also come signed by the director additionally reveals that the film is an undoubtedly personal piece. As such he has no difficulty in blurring fact and fiction, interjecting moments of humour or having a dynamic central performance by Stolze (essentially a surrogate for director, himself on a similar crusade for the truth); all elements that should override or at least obscure the serious political points he is making, but instead only make them easier to absorb.
It’s a technique that is also mirrored in The Nasty Girl’s overt stylisation, although here the results are of greater significance. Certainly, they make the film far more visually attractive and as such more immediately appealing, making it a less challenging prospect than, say, Marcel Ophüls’ examination of French collaboration, The Sorrow and the Pity. But they also serve Verhoeven’s purposes in a more direct way. By including different film stocks, having his actors refer direct to camera and employing high quality back projections, he is constantly reminding his audience that they are watching a film, thereby disassociating them from the narrative elements and placing greater emphasis on the more serious intentions. Moreover, the artifice also prevents The Nasty Girl from becoming a representation of a single German location, but rather an imagined, more generalised one. Before making this feature, Verhoeven was best known for The White Rose, a film with which he took a realistic documentary approach to a specific subject (again from Germany’s past). Had he adopted the same techniques in this case the results would undoubtedly be dulled, but as it is when the hidden secrets of Jewish persecution and possible concentration camps become revealed, the film is not just indicting his characters, but a much wider target - that of his fellow countrymen.
The print used by Arrow for this release dates back from 1992 and as such shows signs of age. The image has become faded in the intervening years, but the image remains reasonably crisp. There are however signs of edge enhancement and on occasion. The soundtrack presents the original German in a DD2.0 mix and sounds fine if unspectacular. Unfortunately, the accompanying English subtitles have been burnt-in and are of the giant yellow variety (a pet hate).
What makes this presentation disappointing is the fact that the theatrical trailer and the excerpts from the film which intersperse the interview with Verhoeven are both of better quality and have optional subs. The trailer is, of course, of minimal interest (plus it reveals the ending), but the chat with the director proves worthy. He traces the film from its origins as a true story through its production (it was originally intended for television) and eventual multiple award-winning success (an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA win). The scant duration (21 mins) means that he is never able to discuss his feature in any great depth, but in the absence of a commentary makes it a welcome addition.