Film-Forward Review: [BEFORE THE FALL (NAPOLA)]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Max Riemelt as Friedrich
Photo: Picture This!

Directed by: Dennis Gansel.
Produced by: Molly von Fürstenberg, Viola Jäger & Harald Kügler.
Written by: Dennis Gansel & Maggie Peren.
Director of Photography: Torsten Breuer.
Edited by: Jochen Retter.
Released by: Picture This!
Language: German with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: Germany. 110 min. Not Rated.
With: Max Reimelt, Tom Schilling, Michael Schenk & Justus Von Dohnányi.

A promising pugilist, working-class Friedrich (Max Riemelt), 17, runs away in the middle of the night to attend a government-sponsored academy. In his parting letter, he warns his father not to come after him or else he'll report him. Welcome to Germany 1942.

Blond and handsome, Friedrich is classified "Nordic. Class B One." He sees his training at the National Political Institute of Learning (Napola) as a golden opportunity. All cadets there are expected to be the future elite of the Third Reich. Spartan to the extreme, the school's motto could be "Survival of the Fittest" with its strict physical regime meant to pound the pity out of the teenagers. It's like a darker Dead Poets Society, without a lovable mentor challenging the status quo. That's up to the students.

Friedrich shares his dorm room with Albrecht (Tom Schilling), a sensitive aesthete and son of the regional governor. Their friendship begins after Albrecht helps Friedrich make his bed (Freudian symbolism perhaps), and Friedrich reads the other's essays. The homoeroticism remains submerged; those hoping for a live-action Bruce Weber spread will be disappointed.

Pervasively gloomy in tone, the ending is preordained. Even the sky is usually overcast. The moments of Friedrich and Albrecht's friendship are fleeting, and the passive Friedrich largely reacts to the surrounding external events. But fortunately for a film emphasizing plot above all else, it comes alive with a jolt during scenes of abuse, a lethal weapons training course, and an incredibly tense wintry test of physical strength. Like in the recent Downfall or the Czech film Zelary, its depiction of the Hitlerian nightmare is what's striking. Before The Fall packs a wallop, even if the ending is sentimentalized - the impact is more a jab than a right hook. All in all, it's more convincing than last year's Rosenstrasse, a fact-based melodrama where Aryan wives of Jewish men protested the Nazi regime. Kent Turner
October 7, 2005



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