February 1943, Munich.
Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch), a biology and philosophy student, is arrested and charged with illegally distributing leaflets undermining the Nazi regime. So is her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs). Robert Mohr (Alexander Held), a true patriot whose ties with the Nazis have served him well, is in charge with their interrogation.
As the story progresses we quickly learn that both Sophie and Hans are active members of the White Rose, an underground organization committed to fighting the Nazis, and that they are indeed "guilty". It is only a matter of time before Sophie and Hans are officially sentenced to death.
On February 22, 1943 Sophie, Hans, and one of their assistants Christoph (Florian Stetter) are found guilty. Sophie has little time to bid farewell to her family and friends.
Written by Fred Breinersdorfer and directed by Marc Rothemund (Harte Jungs a.k.a Ants in my Pants) Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) was selected by Germany as the country's official Oscar-entry in 2005. While the film did make the final round it eventually lost to the South African production Tsotsi (2005).
Based on the actual transcripts from the trial against Sophie Scholl and her collaborators (most of the Gestapo data used in this production was declassified after the fall of East Germany) this is indeed a film that feels like a documentary. The subject matter is without any notable surprises, the execution of the "plot" methodical, and historic facts appear truthfully recreated. As a result Sophie Scholl remains intentionally dry focusing on specific events surrounding the actual trial hardly covering more than what is needed.
The greatest strength of this film stems from the long exchange of words between Sophie and Robert Mohr. He is not a match for the girl, she is hardly intimidated by his status. The two collide in a string of dramatic disputes where roles are often interchanged.
Those of you unfamiliar with Sophie Scholl's story are likely to have a difficult time remembering the detailed description of locations, events, and actions surrounding her execution. Nevertheless the film keeps a fairly open structure that allows the audience to link the events chronologically. Why? Marc Rothemund does not play with provocative slogans or idealistic messages (even though the main protagonist certainly appears as an idealist) and there aren't any moral lessons here to be learned. As a result the story remains remarkably well-paced.
The above description however I assume is one of the main reasons why this German production failed to win the Oscar statuette. The favored by the Academy voters look and feel that other successful foreign Oscar contenders have revealed in the past are nowhere to be found here. There aren't any great visual contrasts in this film, suspense is absent, the epic-element isn't overdone. On the contrary Sophie Scholl is more of a quiet character study built around one single event: the trial.
While I do not think that Sophie Scholl was the best foreign film amongst the finalists for the coveted Oscar statuette in 2005 I do believe that it was leaps and bounds ahead of what the Academy members selected as their top pick. If I had to guess I think that its subdued visual style and the much stronger dialog-driven approach to Sophie Scholl's tragic story might have proved too dry for the powers to be.
How Does the DVD Look?
Well, once again I am fairly disappointed to report that what could have been a great DVD package appears to be yet another PAL-duff. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Sophie Scholl comes to the US courtesy of Zeitgeist. And I have a pretty good idea what the R1 distribs have done: they have taken the earlier released German DVD, copied it, converted it to NTSC, and added up English subtitles. Unfortunately what could have been the definitive English-friendly release of this film (the UK DVD is of terrible quality and not in the proper aspect ratio) is just a deceivingly good-looking replica of the German release. This being said some may be able to tolerate this presentation but there is just too much "blurring" here for my taste. Colors are somewhat acceptable, contrast is decent, and the print is in near perfect condition but overall the R1 is just what I described to you above: a mediocre PAL-port.
I really am starting to get a little weary of this never-ending, well...let's just say it as it is, cheating which R1 distribs think can go on forever. It won't!! Let me make a bold prediction here: either some of these companies will learn to get it right and deliver what the consumer wants or their products won't sell! No matter how strong the film they promote is! With the growing competition on the market, the HD-DVDs, and more importantly forums such as this one where people come to read and decide whether or not a DVD is worth their hard-earned money, I think that it will be rather sooner than later that the above mentioned companies will feel a financial pinch. As far as I am concerned I hope that the pinch evolves into a serious punch that will raise a red flag for the powers to be. Do it right or don't touch what you can't treat with the proper respect at all. It is that simple!!!
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original German 2.0 track and optional English subtitles the film sounds very well. This is mostly a dialog-driven feature and as such the 2.0 track gets the job done perfectly. There aren't any audio drop-outs or hissing that I could detect.
Sophie Scholl comes to the US market as a "flipper" (data is found on both sides of the disc). On side one you will find the main feature plus the original theatrical trailer. On side two there is the hour-long "The Making of Sophie Scholl" which follows the filming process and provides plenty of comments from the cast as well as sporadic behind-the-scenes shots. Next, there is a gallery of thirteen deleted scenes which the producers left on the cutting floor. To be honest with you I did not find much here that should have made the final cut. You could certainly see what the director opted for and what the final result is but in general these are indeed scenes that bring little extra clarity to the final version of the film. Finally, there is a great collection of historical interviews with a number of people (including comments from Sophie's sister) in which they share their memories and give their opinions as to how credible this film is in its depiction of the trial against Sophie Scholl. This is easily the best piece on this disc and no doubt comes highly recommended.
I have some mixed feelings in me. First of all I was very excited when I found out that Zeitgeist will be releasing this film as I thought that they will deliver a properly-converted print. Why? I thought that since they did the theatrical distribution for Sophie Scholl in the US it would be really easy for them to produce a nice NTSC DVD. What a letdown!!! It was all wishful-thinking I suppose!! What the company did instead is something quite upsetting--they "saved" money by using the German PAL master without converting it properly for the NTSC R1 version. And trust me, it shows big time. What a missed opportunity!!