Cinema Signal:

The Racial State :
Germany 1933-1945

. "Before the Fall" (aka, "Napola - Elite fur den Fuhrer")
Language: German with English subtitles.
[Note: because of the unpredictable way accented characters are rendered by browsers, they are purposely omitted]

Hitler's grand vision of winning World War II and taking over the world included some far sighted thinking. His plan, if successful, would require properly trained Nazis to head each country conquered for The Reich. Mini-Hitlers. To develop such a human resource and to ensure absolute dedication to the cause and to himself, the fuhrer designed a network of schools, or institutes, to prepare a corp of "governing elites." This system was known in its abbreviated form as, "Napola." (`National Politische erziehungs Anstalt' or `National Political Education Institute').

The students were not drawn, necessarily, from the privileged classes. The idea was to enlist those who demonstrated capability. Even a child of a mineworker or laborer had a chance to be picked as a future fuhrer. So it is that, in 1942, Friedrich Weimer (Max Riemelt), the son of a factory worker, is chosen because of his boxing skills in an exhibition bout. After watching him knock one of his best fighters to the mat, Heinrich Vogler (Devid Striesow), a Napola teacher, is convinced Friedrich has the potential to win back the annual Napola championship for his institute.

But, while this opening act suggests a boxing movie, the sport becomes incidental to the main line of dramatic development and subject matter, which is to explain how someone from the working class with special skills was able to advance to the level and rarified atmosphere of the ruling class. The film has to do with the relationships and purposes of Hitler's grand scheme, even as losses in the war and the possibility of an eventual downfall begin to take shape.

The training that we see the students undergoing covers a spectrum of subjects for young, future masters: classroom as well as military field drills and marksmanship. The Nazi line on politics is taught, as well as art, Aryan superiority, racial genetics and, following from that, strict anti-semitism -- all part of the formal instruction while Friedrich learns the ins and outs of the place and takes his boxing lessons. His molding into a perfect little Nazi is suggested by the effect the fiery motivational speeches has on him. The one delivered by Gauleiter Heinrich Stein (Justus von Dohnanyi), the high Nazi administrator of the district, is typically fervent in the Nazi cause and mindset.

Then, one day, Albrecht Stein (Tom Schilling), the administrator's son, shows up as a fellow "elite." He's thin and sensitive, nerdy, a study in maladjustment and ill-prepared to become an exponent of the Nazi doctrine. But Friedrich, an apparent opposite in temperament and physicality, is fascinated by his colleague's sensitivities and bonds with him as a mate. Comrades. The Yin and the Yang. The only one detesting this friendship is Albrecht's dad, who sees more Nazi potential in Friedrich than in his own son.

When Albrecht is outraged by his father's orders to kill wounded Russian fugitives in cold blood one foggy night, things start to go downhill for the two trainees. Albrecht for increasing the loathing of an unfeeling parent; Friedrich for his sympathetic alliance with his friend's humanistic makeup. It's also later in the war, and things are going downhill for the Reich, as well, and for ultimate fate of their ambitiously created network of schools.

Max Riemelt is more than a central figure in his portrayal of Friedrich. It is through the strength of his portrayal that we are made to consider that some humanity may have existed in the Hitlerian universe, the likelihood of which hinges delicately on his man of character. He shows us that an individualist who defies his own father to pursue his dream might well defy a propagandistic curriculum once he perceives its evil. What Riemelt models for us here in co-writer/director Dennis Gansel's carefully crafted screenplay is credibility for a lone voice of morality within an unbalanced ideology.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
Site rating: 7

Great! Worth to see twice!

                                                           ~~ Nelly 
Well written, perceptive
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 7

                                                           ~~ Nony 
Off base
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
The film shows the life in an "Ordensburg", not a"Napola".
                                                           ~~ Henry P. 

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Friedrich Weimer as boxer Max Riemelt
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