The Nasty Girl

The Nasty Girl


Reviewed by: Gary Duncan

Lena Stolze plays Sonja, a German high-school student who enters a writing competition on the subject of her hometown in the Second World War. It seems a fairly straightforward assignment - her town, Pfilzing, was a hotbed of resistance during that period - but the more she digs the more she comes to realise the darker truth behind the town's celebrated past.

Based on a true story, the film is told in black-and-white flashbacks in pseudo-documentary style, with characters talking directly to camera and writer/director Michael Verhoeven using rear-projection sets that give it a theatrical feel.

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The flashbacks to Sonja's childhood in the Seventies have an Amelie-like quirkiness and innocence, but Verhoeven never misses an opportunity to poke fun at the town and its stodgy, right wing values, with the church the target of much of his ridicule.

Sonja's mother, pregnant with Sonja, is told she must quit her teaching job because, the head says, "Your condition is really obvious now." Sonja's mother protests, saying she's a married woman, but the head replies, "It's not you. It's the children. They'll ask questions."

Asking questions, it seems, is strictly verboten, but that doesn't deter Sonja, even when the town's elders try to prevent her from digging up the past. When she leaves school, she is still searching for answers and decides to write a book about it. She makes some chilling discoveries - not only were some locals guilty of helping the Nazis, but the town itself was the site of a concentration camp. The elders fight back - she's denounced as a "Jewish slut", a Communist sympathiser and a spy working for the East Germans - and when she still refuses to stop, her family is threatened.

Verhoeven paints a convincing picture of a small town with a big secret and asks serious questions about a still sensitive subject. Were the locals just following orders? Should they still be held accountable for their actions 40 years later? Is it not time to forgive and forget?

Despite the subject matter, humour shines through. A glazier is summoned to Sonja's school to install frosted-glass windows to prevent the boys from the neighbouring school peeping into the girls' classroom. When Sonja and her family move in with an uncle, a curate in a seminary, she grows up surrounded by pubescent trainee priests who get their cheap thrills watching her mother hang her smalls out to dry.

There are a few problems with the film, mainly a flat and unsatisfying ending. Stolze is flawless, but she plays Sonja as a teenager and a married mother of two and sometimes it just doesn't wash. One minute she's in school being taught by trainee teacher Mr Wegmus (Robert Giggenbach). Within a blink of an eye, they're married and have two kids. Wegmus looks old enough to be her father and Sonja looks like she should still be wearing pigtails.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2005
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A young German student gets more than she bargained for when she writes an essay about her home town during the Third Reich.
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Director: Michael Verhoeven

Writer: Michael Verhoeven

Starring: Lena Stolze, Hans-Reinhard Müller, Monika Baumgartner, Elisabeth Bertram, Michael Gahr, Robert Giggenbach, Fred Stillkrauth

Year: 1990

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Germany


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