Pope Benedict XVI knew firsthand the terrors of Nazism: As a teenager he was forced to enroll in the Hitler Youth movement. Here are three DVD picks from the Register archive to which he would likely give his own thumbs-up.
One of the best and most inspiring films of the decade, Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl — The Final Days (2005) is a riveting portrait of a young woman of formidable intellect, dogged self-possession and excruciatingly steady nerves. A German college student during WWII, Sophia Magdalena Scholl (Julia Jentsch) is involved in a tiny underground nonviolent anti-Nazi resistance movement.
Like Vatican list film The Passion of Joan of Arc, Sophie Scholl focuses not on the events that lead its heroine to her trial by fire, but on the trial itself. Nazi interrogator Mohr (Alexander Held) suspects Sophie, but doesn’t have proof. Mohr’s interrogation is a (nearly) irresistible force; Sophie’s calm explanations a (nearly) immovable object. The intellectual and emotional rigor of the back-and-forth between this terrible old lion and his cagey young prey is both crushing and exhilarating.
Throughout her ordeal, Sophie’s guiding light — symbolized by the rays of the sun on Sophie’s upturned face — is her Christian faith, a cornerstone of her critique of Nazi ideology and atrocities, and a taproot of her moral strength. Throughout the film, viewers are invited to put themselves in Sophie’s place: Would I have had the courage and vision to do what she did?
The Hiding Place is an inspiring 1975 adaptation of the autobiographical account of Corrie ten Boom, a leading figure in the Dutch underground during WWII whose family hid Jewish refugees in their Amsterdam home until they were caught by the Nazis and sent first to prison, then to the Ravensbrück camp, where nearly all of them died. Produced by Billy Graham’s World Wide Pictures, The Hiding Place is a very well-made, moving portrait of Christian faith and charity in the most dire of circumstances. For Corrie (Jeannette Clift) and her family — Dutch Reformed believers — to close their doors to anyone would be to close them to Christ, and even in the horrors of the camp there is no room for hating anyone, even Nazis. The film avoids stereotyping: Not all the Germans are bad, not all the Dutch are heroic, and most but not all the Jewish refugees are sympathetic. The Hiding Place is one of the best films ever produced by a faith-based group.
Vatican film list honoree Au Revoir Les Enfants, Louis Malle’s semi-autobiographical 1987 film about life in a Catholic boarding school for boys in Nazi-occupied France, reminds us that it’s one thing to have to live with past sins, deliberate choices we made that we would give anything to take back. But most of us also live in the shadow of events that we didn’t understand until it was too late. There was no moment of truth, no clearly defined choice. We simply blunder along and then spend the rest of our lives in that next moment, probing it like a sore tooth. We must simply live with it.
Sophie Scholl: Much suspense and intimidation; a sequence of disturbing but implicit violence. Subtitles. Teens and up. The Hiding Place: Some harsh depictions of concentration-camp life (teens & up). Au Revoir Les Enfants: Adolescent sexual references and objectionable language, youths in deadly peril, Nazi menace. Subtitles.