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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘White Rose’: Small Acts of Valor Bloom

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The German martyrs in “The White Rose” bear two of youth’s greatest gifts--an untouched idealism and the courage to back it up. Michael Verhoeven’s movie, screening tonight as part of UC Irvine’s “Inside Outsiders” series, retells their small but significant fight against the Nazis during the height of the war.

While so many of their elders accepted Hitler and his doctrine, these few students and soldiers did what they could to sabotage fascism by forming an underground network to disseminate dissident literature in Munich and beyond.

The 1983 film has impact, especially when you realize it’s based on fact. These Resistance fighters, nearly all in their early 20s, were executed in 1943, and Verhoeven recounts their bravery, and its consequences, in a sympathetic way. There’s little to “The White Rose” thatis thrilling in the usual sense--Verhoeven’s admiration doesn’t lead to any big heroic gestures, but he does ennoble the experience.

The picture focuses on 21-year-old Sophie Scholl, the first of the group to be guillotined once discovered. Played by Lena Stolze, who also starred in Verhoeven’s “The Nasty Girl” (1990), she’s an innocent who almost stumbles into the movement.

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We don’t get a clear notion of where her bravery comes from--with her large, mildly distracted eyes and soft ways, Stolze seems an unlikely heroine--and that’s a flaw. Symbolically, though, her plainness provides Verhoeven with the everywoman, the anti-Hitler Joan of Arc, he’s looking for.

One of the best scenes finds Sophie proving her commitment by buying 50 stamps, an unheard of request during wartime that stirs the authorities’ suspicions. The dissidents need to mail their leaflets, and they also need paper to mimeograph. Later, Sophie further risks discovery, and proves her resourcefulness, by posing as a secretary and stealing sheaves of blank paper. Small acts, but important to the cause.

As a historical film, “The White Rose” has been praised for its authenticity and cool-headed approach. That accuracy apparently annoyed the German government. Despite its popularity in Germany, the German Foreign Ministry refused for years to let it be shown in the Goethe Institutes in New York, Paris and Milan.

* Michael Verhoeven’s “The White Rose” screens tonight at 7 and 9 at UC Irvine’s Crystal Cove Auditorium, Campus Drive and Bridge Road, Irvine. $2 and $4. (714) 856-6379.

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