Director: Dennis Gansel
Screenplay: Dennis Gansel and Maggie Peren
Producers: Viola Jager, Harald Kugler and Molly von Furstenberg
Starring: Max Riemelt, Tom Schilling, Devid Striesow and Martin Goeres
Year: 2004
Country: Germany
Duration: 114 mins

Before The Fall has won 7 film awards since its ’04 release and the only surprise is why it’s so few. The film takes place in late 1944 and centres on Friedrich Weimer (Max Riemelt) after he’s invited to join one of the exclusive NAPOLA (National Political Academy) schools, which were the training grounds for the Nazi elite. Despite his father’s protestations, Friedrich forges his signature and makes his way to the castle school.

Friedrich has the potential of being a boxing champion and is taken under the wing of one of the school’s former winners. At first he’s thrilled to be there but soon begins to see behind the gloss and witnesses the darker side of what Nazi-loyalty actually means. A pivotal point occurs after he and some of his classmates are sent to hunt down some escaped Russian POWs, which they find and shoot – but the POWs turn out to be children. He watches helpless as the rest of the POWs are rounded up, and executed.

It’s at this part in the film when the focus shifts a little onto Albrecht (Schilling); Friedrich’s friend and the son of the local Governor. Albrecht is a sensitive soul who is the antithesis to his father’s brutal, hard-line Nazi stance. Albrecht commits suicide by drowning himself in a frozen lake – although this is just a bit too comparable to a similar scene in Damien: Omen 2 to be as effective as it should be.

Albrecht’s death is brushed aside by the school as well as his father; the attitude being that there is no place for suicides within the Third Reich. Friedrich’s eyes are at last opened to the truth of what he once thought an ideal. He makes a decision between political loyalty and what is right, during an important boxing match. On the verge of winning he lowers his guard and effectively ‘sacrifices’ himself. The film ends with the school dismissing him.

Sacrifice seems to be a continuing thread throughout the film: Max sacrificing his father’s trust (by joining the NAPOLA school); Siegfried (Goeres) sacrificing himself on a live grenade (to prevent more humiliation over his bed-wetting); Albrecht committing suicide; and ultimately Friedrich sacrificing his future at the school because he doesn’t believe in the Nazi ideal anymore.

However, there are moments of humour. I laughed out loud when the (stereotypical) drill officer asks Friedrich to punch him in the stomach – to demonstrate his ‘hard as a board’ muscles. Friedrich waits until the officer exhales before punching. Satisfying, very satisfying.

What ‘special effects’ there are however, despite the film being only a few years old, aren’t fantastic: dodgy stick-on boxing wounds; a snowflake that lands on a POW’s eye; and, Albrecht sinking in the lake. But it would be churlish to hold these very minor points against them. Before The Fall is well worth a watch.

Before The Fall is now available on DVD.

Review by Andy Goodman

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