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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
Should have been a contender for 'best foreign film'
Contains slight spoilers.
This is one of a new breed of German films (like 'The Downfall') that takes a new look at the Nazi period. It is not afraid to show how attractive Nazism actually seemed to most Germans at the time and to show 'nice' characters happily giving the Hitler salute. Not that the film is in any way pro-Nazi -- quite the reverse.
Here we have a story about an élite school for future Nazi leaders. A working-class boy who is good at boxing is given a place there, where he makes friends with the sensitive son of the local Nazi leader. The brutality of the system eventually pushes both of them to become outsiders. Two suicides tellingly punctuate the story.
The acting is outstanding throughout, especially by the young stars of the film. Max Riemelt is particularly good as the boxer. The character is meant to be a doer rather than a thinker, unlike his friend, but Riemelt manages the transition from easy-going and rather empty-headed Hitler youth to someone who is prepared to stand against the inhumanity of Nazism.
The plot contains some powerful dramatic set pieces, such as the scene with the hand grenades and the one where the students dive under a frozen lake. These are brilliantly handled by the director and screenwriter, Dennis Gansel. He manages to bring out the full drama of them without overdoing it or lurching into melodrama or pathos.
I'm not generally a great fan of German films, many of which tend to be either self-consciously arty or trashily commercial. This is the best one I've seen since Das Boot.
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