“The Nasty Girl” is kind of an unfortunate translation of “Das schreckliche Mädchen,” simply because it makes it sound like a porno, or something from the “Porky’s” ilk. “Schreckliche” usually translates as “terrible,” which would make more sense for this 1990 comedic gem of a film.
“The Nasty Girl” follows precocious young Sonja (Lena Stolze) from being a schoolgirl to a harried mother of three. It’s not so much a biography, as a record of one event in her life, and how it carried repercussions through the following years.
See, there it sounds serious. This film touches on some serious topics–namely, Sonja’s small town’s culpability during The Third Reich–but it is fast-paced, lighthearted, even very funny.
This amazing achievement is due in equal measure to director Michael Verhoeven, and to the remarkable actress Lena Stolze. Ms Stolze was actually 33 or 34 when she filmed “The Nasty Girl,” yet she passes effortlessly for a 15 year-old schoolgirl. She has expressive brown eyes, and a pixieish quality to her face that serves her well, as she keeps her spirits up, even when things turn bad.
When the film starts, Sonja is a Catholic schoolgirl in small-town Germany. She’s popular, and one of the smartest girls in her class. A pan-European essay contest is announced, and one of Sonja’s teachers insists she enter. She’s chosen as the German winner, and takes off to Paris for the awards ceremony.
Over the next few years she falls in love with a student-teacher on temporary assignment. They become engaged before he returns to Munich to complete his training.
One day, another essay contest is announced, and the same teacher insists that Sonja enter. There are two topics. The first is something boring. The second is “My Town During The Third Reich.” Being a free spirit, Sonja chooses the latter.
She starts poking around, and finds that most people don’t really want to cooperate, or discuss what happened during those long-past days. Sonja’s beloved returns, and she never gets around to finishing the essay in time. Problem solved.
Until she decides to write a book about the subject. Then she encounters all manner of stonewalling and opposition. She gets the book published, and the town slowly starts to welcome her back into the fold.
At least, until her next adventure.
“The Nasty Girl” is stylistically brilliant. It is not meant to be taken as a serious movie, but as a lighthearted movie that touches on a serious subject. Many of the actors–the mayor, for example–play their roles almost cartoonishly. Many of the sets are designed to let us know we’re in Sonja’s memory. When she goes to the newspaper archive, there’s a man at a desk, and behind him is a film projection of a busy 1920’s-style newsroom. Many elements lend an almost absurdist touch to the film.
“The Nasty Girl” does touch on some real issues, namely that people did things during the war that they wouldn’t normally do. They behaved in ways that shame them now. It’s not a judgmental film, really. It just points out that even good people do bad things: we shouldn’t trash a person’s life over one incident 50 years ago, but neither should we forget.
When I read that this film is a comedy, then read the subject, I was very skeptical that it could cover these topics and still be funny, without either trait being weakened. Truly, this is a comedy, and it does cover some serious things.
“The Nasty Girl” won numerous awards throughout Europe (even the BAFTA), and it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes. (I didn’t see the other Foreign Film nominees, but it competed in the year “Dances With Wolves” won everything over “Goodfellas,” so maybe the ballots were all screwy).
If you don’t mind reading subtitles, give “The Nasty Girl” a try. Believe me, I know German cinema has a daunting, well-earned reputation for stodginess and being as UN-comedic as can be. This is a happy, fun exception, and well worth 90 minutes.
(Rated PG-13, for a couple profanities, and one very brief shot of a woman’s breasts as she swims, which should not warp anyone)
(Available on Netflix Instant)