The heroine of Michael Verhoeven's "The Nasty Girl" doesn't start out nasty. She's a good German girl, sweet-tempered, great in class and naive as any teen-ager who hasn't seen much of the world beyond the streets of her home town.
But when Sonja (Lena Stolze) begins looking into her village's past, she discovers the worst kind of dirt. Little Pfilzig--Sonja learns while researching a school essay titled "My Hometown in the Third Reich"--turned out to have Nazi sympathizers in high places during the war.
Sonja thought she'd document how the village leaders fought Hitler through a valiant underground. Instead, she documents how they were cozy with the man and his fascist ideals.
"The Nasty Girl," based on a true story and screening Friday night as part of Saddleback College's free foreign film series, shows how the village turned on Sonja when she expanded her essay into a critically cheered book after high school. Pfilzig soon becomes notorious throughout Europe, and Sonja becomes the most reviled, the nastiest, girl in town.
Verhoeven's technique in telling Sonja's tale makes for some unusual juxtapositions. The past melds with the present as Sonja continues her odyssey, and Verhoeven and cinematographer Axel de Roche jump from black-and-white to color images to detail the progression.
There's humor early on as the innocent girl introduces us to her family, a buxom mother (Monika Baumgartner) who can't seem to keep her blouse from falling open in front of the neighborhood boys, an obliviously cheerful father (Michael Gahr) and loser siblings who resent the overachieving Sonja.
These early scenes are nice but far from compelling. In learning of Sonja's personality and her tiny world, we have to accept much blithe exposition that can veer to the mundane, even the dull, in an instant.
But the 1990 movie revs up once Sonja gets on the trail of the town's big shots--especially the editor (Hans-Reinhard Muller) of the local newspaper--who were Third Reich toadies and not the heroes they've passed themselves off as.
Sonja is a brave detective, determined to get the truth out, and her courage gives the film its vividness. She almost loses her conservative, don't-make-waves husband and former teacher (Robert Giggenbach) along the way. That provides domestic dramatics; a bomb thrown into Sonja's house provide dramatics of another sort as her increasingly dangerous research continues.
Ultimately, Sonja is vindicated, receiving the glory that this adolescent Nazi-hunter deserves. But Verhoeven smartly covers her final victory with irony. Sonja accepts the bravos of the reconstructed town leaders with suspicion, knowing that they only approve of her now because it's the easy thing to do, just like it was the easy thing to approve of the Nazis when they marched through their town.
* What: Michael Verhoeven's "The Nasty Girl."
* When: Friday, March 24, at 7 p.m.
* Where: Saddleback College's Science/Math Building, Room 313, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo.
* Whereabouts: Take Interstate 5 to Avery Parkway and head east to Marguerite Parkway, then take a left. The school is on the right.
* Wherewithal: FREE.
* Where to call: (714) 582-4788.
MORE SPECIAL SCREENINGS
(NR) Nelson Eddy and Ilona Massey star in this 1939 operetta directed by Reinhold Schunzel about the Russian Revolution. The film screens Friday, March 24, at 12:45 p.m. at the Cypress Senior Center, 9031 Grindlay St. FREE. (714) 229-6776.
(PG) Woody Allen plays a man who gets caught up in numerous complications after he helps blacklisted writers in the 1950s by putting his name on their scripts. Zero Mostel also stars in this 1976 film directed by Martin Ritt that screens Sunday, March 26, at 9:30 a.m. at the AMC MainPlace Six in the MainPlace mall, 2800 N. Main St., Santa Ana. A 9 a.m. breakfast reception precedes the film, part of the Jewish Film Festival. A discussion by screenwriter Michael Berlin follows it. Sponsored by University Synagogue. $20. (714) 553-3535.
(PG) Anthony Hopkins stars as the British writer C. S. Lewis, an avowed bachelor and Oxford don who finds love late in life when he encounters an American poet (Debra Winger). Directed by Richard Attenborough, this 1993 British film screens Wednesday, March 28, and Friday, March 30, at 12:45 p.m. at the Cypress Senior Center. FREE.