Sophie Scholl: The Final Days Review

There’s a sense of inevitability in Sophie Scholl: The Final Days‘ title, just as there was to Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Adolf Hitler picture Downfall. And indeed, the similarities don’t end there: both are based on historical fact; are ostensibly biopics; and both represent examples of German cinema which take a stark look back at their country’s past. In this case the subject is Scholl, a member of the anti-Nazi and anti-violence student collective White Rose who, together with her brother Hans, was arrested and almost immediately executed for distributing anti-party pamphlets at a Munich campus.

Though it opens on a personal moment - Sophie and a friend singing along to a Billie Holiday record - The Final Days soon eschews such touches and takes us straight into these events. Given that the film, quite literally, has only a handful of days to dramatise, there’s an overall terseness to its execution which recalls the finer works of Costa-Gavras. Basing their efforts on unpublished transcripts and new interview material, writer Fred Breinersdorfer and director Marc Rothemund stick only to the essentials. They never once leave Sophie’s side (and as such we only learn of Hans’ fate whenever their situations interact) and in doing so only reveal what needs to be revealed. They are, after all, making a political thriller and so up the pace not only through the rhythmic, ominous scoring by Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, but also by moving onto the next scene as soon as the key moments have been spent. There’s simply no time to unnecessarily dwell as we move back and forth between dank interrogation room and even danker cell with a brutal, and intentionally numbing, efficiency.

Structurally, The Final Days plays off the inherent inevitability of its situation. There’s an impending seriousness as the interrogations go more and more in favour of the Nazis. At first these scenes seem almost light in their tone, with Sophie presented as bright and quick-witted as she tries to lie her way out of her arrest. Indeed, she never seems quite aware of her fate, a fact that only makes the conclusion all the more affecting. Moreover, lead actress Julia Jentsch supplies just the right level of inauspiciousness so that she never feels like a movie heroine, but simply a young girl barely in her twenties. In fact, the performances all round share this quality; we’re not getting stock types but deftly sketched character parts which create just the right impression. Given the film’s focus on the essentials there’s never time for anyone beyond Sophie to grow into a fully-fledged character and as such this works just fine.

Of course it helps somewhat approach in mirrored throughout The Final Days. Visually it sticks to the understated, taking us through repeated bare corridors and barely furnished rooms. The only splash of genuine colour, perhaps unsurprisingly, comes from the giant swastika banners which adorn the later courtroom scenes; otherwise we’re left with muted greens and browns which eventually blend into one another and given an overall sense of sheer lifelessness. Furthermore, the drama repeatedly takes a step back from melodrama- it may be a political thriller and as such be rife with heated exchanges, but never to the point where the drama feels forced or clichéd.

As such we’re faced with a solid piece of filmmaking likely to appeal to a wide audience. Despite the earlier stylistic comparison to Costa-Gavras, The Final Days perhaps lacks the sheer determined nature of his best works and the forcefulness this resulted in. And certainly, it does flag on occasion, losing sight at times of the tension (post-confession the interrogation scenes lack the initial edge given the switch from mind games to a more straightforward debate), but for the most part it offers much to appreciate. In fact, it comes as something of a surprise to find a small outfit such as ICA handling its distribution. Moreover, the fact that it is ICA in charge results in another of their typically underwhelming DVDs...

The Disc

Devoid of extras, the disc offers simply the film and nothing else. More damaging is the fact that the presentation itself isn’t especially great. Though we get the film in its correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio and taken from a fine looking print, it’s also non-anamorphic and comes with burnt-in English subtitles (though these do at least remain inside the frame making zooming a possibility). As for the soundtrack, the original German DD5.1 has been downgraded to standard DD2.0. This is admittedly fine as far as it goes, but it’s nonetheless a huge disappointment to find such a new film handled in such a lacklustre fashion.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:12:09

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