Before the Fall (2004)

“Aesthetes are not needed in this hour.”

When the German film Before the Fall (NaPolA) begins, it’s Prague in 1942, and Friedrich Weimar (Max Riemelt) is set is go to work in the factory alongside his father. A German officer who teaches at an elite military training academy spots Friedrich during a boxing match and invites him to attend the school. The school is one of 40 Napolas (National-Political Institutes for Learning)–schools that train youth athletically while simultaneously indoctrinating them with Nazi ideals.

To Friedrich, attending the school represents an opportunity for education and advancement. Friedrich’s father, however is opposed to Hitler, and he’s horrified by the idea. Friedrich, who’s too young and naive to grasp the ramifications of attending the school, packs a suitcase, and runs away from home.

Friedrich’s mentor is delighted to see his protege arrive. But the first few scenes of life at the Napola are chilling. Friedrich must don a uniform and surrender to the brutal indoctrination enforced by the school’s harsh masters, and reinforced by senior students who are being groomed for the higher echelon of the SS.

Any sign of weakness on the part of the students is ridiculed, singled-out, and trammeled upon. Brutal training and insane obedience are the order of the day–accompanied by ceremonial worship of all things Nazi. Naturally, in this environment, anyone who questions, disobeys, or fails suffers. Blond, blue-eyed Friedrich is the “Aryan ideal” and thanks to the protection of his mentor, he’s gradually accepted at this school for the privileged in spite of his working class roots.

Friedrich makes friends with Albrecht Stein (Tom Schilling), the sensitive son of the governor. Stein writes poetry and loathes everything his despotic father stands for. There’s no love lost between father and son–Stein’s father clearly despises what he interprets as his son’s weakness.

Ultimately, moral choices must be made which require enormous character and fortitude. This is a chilling portrayal of indoctrination (brainwashing) designed to morally corrupt all the pupils, and cannibalize them into the system once they are divested of any shred of humanity. The film has its cliched moments, but it’s riveting from beginning to end. DVD extras include a video diary and deleted scenes. Directed by Dennis Gansel, Before the Fall is in German with English subtitles.

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