One problem with based-on-a-true-story films is the issue of recreating off-the-record dialogue: Few people record their private moments, and fact-based films most clearly fictionalize—and most often overreach—when they theorize about what historical figures were like when away from the spotlight. In their Oscar-nominated German film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, director Marc Rothemund and screenwriter Fred Breinersdorfer solve the problem by avoiding it. Drawing largely on interviews and transcripts from the interrogation and trial of the eponymous anti-Nazi student crusader, they give Scholl (as played by The Edukators' Julia Jentsch) a firm, sophisticated voice in public, but often keep her silent or minimally communicative when she drops off the record. While its long silences sometimes become soporific, the overall result is a hushed, sober, thoughtful film. Maybe more filmmakers should concentrate on getting their subjects to shut up.
As part of a small underground resistance called "the White Rose," Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs), and others wrote and distributed scathing indictments of Hitler and the Nazis, mailing their manifestos to strangers in key professions and painting anti-Nazi slogans in public places at night. In 1943, the Scholls were arrested while distributing leaflets at the University of Munich, and subjected to interrogation, a whirlwind show trial, and sentencing over the course of less than a week. Rothemund and Breinersdorfer focus on this series of events, particularly Sophie's encounters with an interrogator (Alexander Held) whose conviction seems to waver in the face of her collected determination, but who dutifully mouths the party line anyway. The film follows a straight, clear line from its heroes' crime to their punishment, keeping the focus tight and the scale small, presuming that everyone watching already has all the historical context they need. Which they likely do, since it mostly amounts to "Nazis bad."
Wearing a vivid red sweater—often the only color in a dark landscape of blacks, browns, and greens—Jentsch is a bright spot in a bleak world, as Rothemund no doubt intended, and while the symbolism is strong, the image is striking and lovely. Like much of the film, which rarely presumes to delve into Scholl's thoughts or motivations, it's all about public image and obvious surfaces. But while the film doesn't dig deep, or hit particularly hard, it neatly achieves its modest goals: presenting a real-life heroine in real-life terms. A film this fictionalized rarely feels this much like fact.