THE NASTY GIRL (Michael Verhoeven, 1990)

Loud, aggressive, irritatingly self-congratulatory, writer-director Michael Verhoeven’s comedy Das Schreckliche Mädchen is fact-based. Sonja Rosenberger, the high school student that Lena Stolze (best actress, German Film Awards) spiritedly plays, derives from an actual student, Anja Rosmus, who stirred things up with her research into the truth behind her Bavarian town’s legendary resistance to Nazism. (The film, a prologue warns us, “mixes fact and fiction.”) The “truth” is a foregone conclusion: Scratch a citizen and find one more shit who “went along.” (Hitler himself once had a home in Passau, where Rosmus lived.) Sonja is indeed a “nasty girl,” and she and her loved ones are in for reprisals from those townsfolk determined to maintain the honor of their town.
     His script is messagey run-of-the-mill, but Verhoeven has tricked up the film’s appearance to convince audiences, including gullible “critics,” he made a masterpiece. Besides switching back and forth between color and black and white, Verhoeven combines the two in the same shot. Thus, for example, when Sonja is busy in the library, she appears in color at a desk while the interior of the room is a blowup of a black-and-white photograph. There’s an idea of sorts here: these musty old books, and whatever archival burial of history they represent, are no match for our Sonja! In other shots, there is live-action back projection. Verhoeven is especially fond of making a shot part interior, part exterior. (I do not mean that the “exterior” part is glimpsed through a doorway or a window. Rather, “inside” and “outside” jointly occupy the same space.) It all means something, I’m sure.
     The Nasty Girl won a plethora of prizes for Verhoeven, including the New York Film Critics Circle’s prize as best foreign-language film and the directorial prize at Berlin.

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