“The roadblocks of a stubborn and guilty bureaucracy.”
Director Michael Verhoeven’s film The Nasty Girl is the story of Sonja (Lena Stolze). Raised in the small Bavarian town of Pfilzing, she attends convent school as her mother doesn’t want Sonja to mix with “anti-social kids and socialists.” Apart from the odd flash of naughty behaviour, Sonja has a very conventional upbringing. She’s the epitome of a good girl. Considered a “teacher’s pet” she’s obedient, tidy, quiet, and studious, so it comes as no surprise when she enters an essay competition and wins first place. With her model essay Freedom in Europe Sonja wins a holiday in France. Later, Sonja is encouraged to enter a second essay competition, and her next topic is My Hometown During the Third Reich. Sonja’s mother admonishes her to concentrate on “positive things,” and considering exactly what Sonja uncovers, well this little hint points to the conclusion that many people in Pfilzing had a damn good idea exactly what happened in town during WWII.
Sonja begins to research her paper with the idea that her focus will be how her town and the Catholic Church resisted the Nazis. Sonja is one of those characters who’s always been petted and accepted by those in power (she’s even given the examination questions in advance by the convent school nuns). She’s such a favourite in town that she fails to realize just how cosseted a position she has, and she has no idea what it’s like to be a subversive or a radical. Brought up to conform and obey, it’s a sheer accident that she stumbles on the town’s secret Nazi past. Motivated by naïve curiosity and a desire to discover the truth, Sonja refuses to give up her quest for information. She’s pressured not just to give up her research but also to return to her role of being a good little wife and housekeeper. Her stubborn streak carries her forward through a corrupt bureaucracy, ostracism, violence and death threats.
Over time, Sonja discovers that the Nazis executed a Catholic Priest–he’s a very acceptable icon for the town to remember, but when Sonja attempts to discover why Father Schulte ended up in a concentration camp right outside town her problems begin. In Sonja’s naivety she fails to recognize that she’s offended people in power who may be harmed by her investigation. It takes her some time to understand exactly why she keeps running into brick walls as she digs into the past. And this is one of the film’s ironies–Sonya thinks she’s discovering a story that no one knows, but the reality is that all the old-timers know exactly what she’s going to dig up if she keeps looking.
The Nasty Girl is based on a true story about what happened to Anya Rosmus as she researched her town’s past. The fact that old Nazis still run Pfilzing made me think of the Red Army Faction’s argument that many old Nazis were alive and well and still running the country in the 60s.
The film’s delightful, light ironic style certainly works for most of the film, but at times style undermines the message. Several scenes are surreal, and parts of the film appear in a docudrama format. The film’s powerful ending makes a tremendous statement regarding radicalism and society–sometimes to maintain integrity one must eschew awards, nominations and medals. The film shows that these trinkets are just another way to hijack and recuperate fringe-dwellers and subversives in their “fearless struggle for the truth.” There’s nothing like awarding someone a cheesy medal in order to maintain the political and social status quo; It’s a way of bringing you back into the fold. Makes me think of U-2’s Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire “Sir” Bono. Considering the British Empire’s history with Ireland, you’d think he would have told them to shove it. Oh well.
The Nasty Girl is in German with English subtitles