Facing 'nasty' truths

Wednesday, March 27, 1991

The Nasty Girl

Starring Lena Stolze

Directed and written by Michael Verhoeven

Reviewed by Barry Healy

The nasty girl of the title is Sonja Rosenburgen, who outrages the good burgers of the Bavarian town of Pfilzing by digging into the sordid facts of what happened in their sleepy little village during the Third Reich. She quickly gets converted from the darling of the town establishment to "das schreckliche Mõdchen".

Had this come from one of Hollywood's melodrama factories, there would be plenty of opportunities to milk the feelings of the audience: young Sonja pugnaciously standing up to the town authorities to get access to the municipal archives; the family strains and splits under the campaign of harassment that erupts; and the violence of neo-Nazi thugs assaulting the family.

Michael Verhoeven has chosen a totally different approach. The film combines gentle humour, slightly surreal theatrics and a delicate, ironic tone to create a sharp comedy that allows the bitter narrative to slip under the viewer's defences. The film has been a hit and an award winner in Germany, where it has an added edge because the story is closely modeled on reality.

Sonja Rosenburgen is based on Anna Rosmus, from the small Bavarian town of Passau, where she has been completely ostracised for exposing the town's Nazi past in a book called Passau: An example of Persecution and Resistance. She has been attacked by Nazis and abused by respectable citizens — and awarded honorary degrees by some of Europe's most prestigious universities for her heroic effort to speak the truth.

She became interested in the subject when, as a youth, she realised that the older generation avoided talking about their experiences during the war. As she grew older, and her digging for the truth got more serious, she had to use court orders to get at the facts.

She discovered that many of the area's leading figures, including pillars of the church, had worked with the Nazis and benefited from denouncing Jews and seizing their property. She also discovered the continuing presence of fascist terror in modern Germany.

Michael Verhoeven is also no stranger to controversy. His first film, o.k. — about US atrocities in Vietnam — caused such a ruckus at the 1968 Berlin Film Festival that the entire festival jury resigned and the festival collapsed midway through the season. Last year he returned to the festival with The Nasty Girl and won a Sliver Bear award for best director and the audience award for best film.

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