Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Strong Female Roles Add Power in a Change from Male-Focused Movies, Two Recent Film Stories Feature Admirable Women. FILM: REVIEW

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Strong Female Roles Add Power in a Change from Male-Focused Movies, Two Recent Film Stories Feature Admirable Women. FILM: REVIEW

Article excerpt

HOLLYWOOD is notorious for giving its second-best roles to women, and the situation clearly hasn't changed when a superficial romp like "Postcards From the Edge" represents the best a major studio can come up with in exploring women's issues. Filmmakers often follow the same pattern in other parts of the world, reserving their most substantial opportunities for male performers and characters.

So it's a special pleasure to find strong, admirable women at the heart of two new movies due soon in American theaters - pictures made far from Hollywood, but universal in their themes and richly accessible in their styles. Both were featured in the recent Toronto Festival of Festivals, and then traveled to the New York Film Festival.

The Nasty Girl, a West German film directed by Michael Verhoeven, is named after Sonja, its young heroine. She earns that "nasty" label when she innocently enters an essay competition. The problem isn't her literary ambition but rather the topic she decides to write about: "My Town During the Third Reich."

Sonja already has a reputation as her school's best writer. For some reason, though, the local grown-ups aren't eager to help her investigate this particular subject. Hems and haws greet her requests for information, and the authorities withhold city and church records from her.

Why? She doesn't learn the specifics until years later, when she's a grown woman with children of her own - and with a lingering curiosity about just what happened in her ordinary Bavarian town during the Nazi era. She continues her inquiry, running up against more concerted opposition from townspeople who obviously have plenty to hide.

Never have the themes of Nazism and the Holocaust been treated with more irony and mordant humor than Mr. Verhoeven gives them here; yet he doesn't forget the deadly seriousness of his subject, or the continuing importance of remembering and condemning the horrors of the Third Reich. One of the film's ringing achievements is to bring new immediacy to this subject through the use of humor, aimed not only at human foibles but also at earlier Holocaust films, which Verhoeven subtly satirizes - filling the backgrounds with projected images in the manner of Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, for instance, and peppering the action with Marcel Ophuls-type interviews.

These details will be valued most by people familiar with the long tradition of films on the Nazi era, but all audiences can appreciate the energy and inventiveness they give Verhoeven's movie. He told me during last spring's Cannes film festival that he wanted to avoid the prettiness and technical slickness that mark so many recent productions, and this decision has much to do with the movie's surprising impact. It also helped Verhoeven (who isn't related to Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, of "Robocop" fame) earn the Berlin Film Festival's best-director award. …

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