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
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
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.
~~ Jules Brenner