Before the Fall (Napola)

Before the Fall (Napola) is the coming of age story of young Friedrich Weimer (Max Riemelt, Girls on Top, Bear on the Run) in 1942 Germany. The difference here is that the circumstances are much more sinister, and director Dennis Gansel (Girls on Top, The Dawn), who co-wrote the screenplay with Maggie Peren (Girls on Top, My Parents) pace the story, starting things off surprisingly innocent. Weimer doesn't seem to notice when things begin to take a turn for the worse, since they start small. By the time he notices, he is in over his head.

Weimer is just an ordinary kid. He has a knack for boxing, something that Heinrich Vogler (Devid Striesow, Downfall, Marseille) notices. Vogler is a teacher at a Napola, an exclusive school that served as a training ground for Hitler's soldiers. Vogler saw Weimer's raw talent, and recruited him for the school, hoping that he could use Weimer to win back a boxing title. Weimer's father (Alexander Held, Downfall, The Code of Life) is adamantly opposed, so Weimer runs away. Here is the important point - Weimer is just a kid. He doesn't care about political ideology, he just wants to box, and sees an opportunity to do something with his life.

Gansel structures the film to give a false sense of complacency. Before the Fall begins like any of the umpteen films about kids going to college. Vogler makes new friends and enemies, and has to adjust quickly to a new way of life that can get pretty rough at times. He befriends Albrecht Stein (Tom Schilling, Play it Loud, Mehmet), basically a legacy student. His father is the respected local governor. Stein is not the type of person typically found at a Napola. He isn't great at sports or other physical things, and would much rather write poetry, much to the consternation of his father.

Before the Fall continues along these lines, until Gansel begins to subtly insert things. It happens so quickly that Weimer doesn't notice. Everything seems normal until a racially tinged lecture occurs. Weimer doesn't seem to notice because it is one small things. But then more things happen. An instructor humiliates a student in front of the others. The events become worse, culminating on a patrol where the students are hunting armed escaped convicts. By this time, the atmosphere is oppressive. The only person that seems to care is Stein, who is an outcast. All this time, Weimer sat back and did nothing. Riemelt plays him as an apathetic kid. Growing up means standing up for what he believes in, but before he does that, he needs to figure out his own code of what is right and wrong. He shrugs off the first few things. With each additional act, and with Stein as his conscience, he begins to see the people around him for what they are. By the end of the film, the audience sees something all too rare in today's film - character growth. Weimer at the end of the film is a different person that Weimer at the beginning.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 50 minutes, German with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains language, some violence, and minor nudity, probably an R, possibly a PG-13.

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