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Jan Ole Gerster
Justus von Dohnányi
In 1942, Friedrich Weimer's boxing skills get him an appointment to a National Political Academy (NaPolA) - high schools that produce Nazi elite. Over his father's objections, Friedrich enrolls, seeing this as his ticket out of factory life to university and a good salary. During his year in seventh column (fifth form), this innocence is altered as Friedrich encounters hazing, cruelty, death, and the Nazi code. His friendship with Albrecht, the ascetic son of the area's governor, is central to this education; a night in the forest hunting for escaped Russian POWs brings things to a head. Written by
BEFORE THE FALL ('NAPOLA') is a brilliantly made film that addresses the blind hopes of youth in becoming a success as a man, a factor that allowed and allows dictators to entice young men into the realm of warriors under the guise of applauded bravery and the golden promise of achieving glory for a great cause. This story just happens to be about Hitler and his 40 Napola (training camps for the elite German youths in 1942) and the young boys and men who trained in these National Political societies. It could be found in many places and in many times...
Friedrich Weimer (handsome and talented young Max Riemelt) comes from the lower class in Germany (his father is aiming him toward factory work) and is a fine young boxer. His talents are noted by some representatives from the Nazi party and he is asked to report for enrollment in a Napola, an important means of education and training that Friedrich sees as being his way to become something special, someone important. His father is anti-Nazi and refuses to let Friedrich go, but Friedrich is determined and runs into the night to join the Napola. Once there he is admitted, groomed as a boxer for the Napola, and introduced to the Hitler's youth movement. His fellow classmates vary from the very wealthy to other fine Arian lads. They are trained, observed, and brainwashed as to the glory of the Thousand Year Reich. Problems begin to arise when Friedrich gets to know his fellow classmates: Siegfried (Martin Goeres) is a bed wetter and is humiliated publicly for his problem; Albrecht (Tom Schilling) is a poet and writer whose father is one of the governors of the Napola and Albrecht is anti-war; other lads seem on the surface to be obedient yet most have hidden reservations about what they are doing.
Being 1942 some changes are occurring in the Nazi dream and the Senior class is sent out on a mission to fight the enemy. And one night Friedrich's class is called out of bed and sent into the woods to find Russian soldiers who are 'threatening' their security. The boys open fire on the Russians only to find that they have killed a number of unarmed Russian boys. This profoundly disturbs them all, but Albrecht in particular. Friedrich continues to observe the manner in which he and the other boys are used and slowly his best friends find ways to martyr themselves and ultimately Friedrich does the same in his only way - by changing the way he approaches the Napola expectations of his boxing.
Max Riemelt as Friedrich is outstanding: not only does he have the solid extraordinary good looks but he also can act, satisfying every nuance of this challenging role. The remainder of the cast - both young boys and the adults running the Napola - are superb. The cinematography is subtly beautiful, ranging from the tough interiors inside to the vistas of a Germany before it was destroyed by the not too distant fall. Director Dennis Gansel, who co-wrote the script with Maggie Peren, is a young man (the featurette with the DVD has an enlightening conversation between Gansel and Riemelt) knows exactly how to capture both the wide-eyed innocence of youth and the slowly crumbled ideals of young men. This is an outstanding film to see and experience. Its lessons are terrifying and intense. In German with English subtitles. Grady Harp
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