The Nasty Girl

First up, let’s address the unfortunate translation of “Das schreckliche Mdchen,” Michael Verhoeven’s 1990 film. The ‘nasty’ in the title is closer in meaning to something like mean or rude rather than any sexual meaning.

If that’s what you were thinking when you clicked on that link, sorry. You won’t find what you’re looking for here.

In case you decided to stick around, “The Nasty Girl” is about Sonja (Lena Stolze), a bright young German girl in the 1970s. She enters a Europe-wide essay contest while she’s in high school and wins the first prize for Germany. She gets a trip to Paris, a medal from the mayor and the admiration of friends and family alike.

So, when a second essay contest comes around two years later, she naturally decides to enter; however, this time around, the topic is “My Hometown During the Third Reich.” She’s met with some initial resistance, she gets some names, sees some suspicious items in an old newspaper, but when she misses the essay deadline, she drops the subject to focus on her real life (marriage, kids, etc.).

But, she doesn’t give up for long; after her second child is born, she’s back on the hunt, only this time, her neighbors pull out all the stops to get her to stop looking for the history they buried long ago. Of course, the resistance only makes her push harder, and while she’s winning the war, she loses quite a few battles along the way.

Sonja is quite the heroic figure, but there’s also a bit of nave recklessness in her choices. She knows that she’s right (of course she’s right), but she doesn’t realize until later that her righteousness comes with a price. Her neighbors threaten her family, bomb her house, beat her up, but she never stops. For her, it’s brave, but kudos to Verhoeven, who wrote the screenplay, for showing that there is a selfish side to being a hero. Think what her loved ones were going through while she got to be a crusader.

Without giving too much away, the ending suggests that heroics are exactly what Sonja doesn’t need. “The Nasty Girl” is quite a tricky film; it’s a compelling story, but the faux documentary style, combined with surreal sets make it harder to get invested in the story. While we’re always rooting for Sonja to succeed, what are we rooting for? Justice? Revenge? Rewritten history, for better or worse, at any cost?

“The Nasty Girl” really doesn’t have the answers, but the questions are worth pondering. I’m not sure I would whole-heartedly recommend the film, but if you can find it, it’s worth checking out.

“The Nasty Girl” (1990)

Written and directed by Michael Verhoeven

Starring: Lena Stolze (Sonja)