World War II Marathon: Napola – Elite Für Den Führer (Before The Fall, 2004)

Film #48 in the World War II Marathon is a very fresh take on the war, perhaps the most original film in this entire marathon!

Written By: Dennis Gansel & Maggie Peren
Directed By: Dennis Gansel

As much as I have loved this marathon I will admit that it does get a bit repetitive. That’s why I have spaced it out as much as I have, well that and the fact that I’m a lazy git who doesn’t watch movies when he says he will watch movies. The point remains however, for the most part the movies in this marathon have covered two areas extensively, the war itself and the Holocaust or maybe both in the same movie from time to time. A few have stepped beyond that, but there hasn’t been a film that took place within the confines of the war that felt like it was different from all the other movies in the marathon. But no more can I utter those words, Napola – Elite Für Den Führer has come around to change all of that. This is a World War II movie and as much as a certain scene most likely deals with the Holocaust, it still feels different, like a part of this place and time in history that has just been unearthed.

The freshness found in the subject matter in Napola – Elite Für Den Führer morphs into a cautionary tale of how easily the youth can be molded and shaped. I found the experience of watching Friedrich slowly become something he really wasn’t quite absorbing. Friedrich isn’t a Nazi, most of the students at his academy are as far as you can get from being a Nazi. But they salute just like a Nazi, they wear the swastika, they go through the motions, they become like Nazis without intending to. It’s telling that Friedrich’s great uprising doesn’t result from a rebellion against Nazism but rather as a result of the actions of the abusive father of a friend. With every step Friedrich, and the rest of the boys, takes it’s like he delves further and further into a massive costume. He wants to be a great boxer, a good student and a man, but he doesn’t know how to be any of those things so he does what his school says and thinks nothing of it. Can you truly label someone a Nazi if he is being molded by the school he attends? I say the answer is no and that is why it’s entertaining to watch Friedrich as he becomes one with the machine.

I have no doubt that the above way of thinking was present in the director and co-writer Dennis Gansel’s mind. He peppers Napola – Elite Für Den Führer with images of Nazism, most notably the swastika and the German flag, in places that don’t quite seem right. For some reason when you put the Nazi flag behind a boxing ring it just doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t fit. This mirrors the boys we see in the school, because for the most part the label of Nazi that their teachers will bestow upon them just doesn’t seem right, it most certainly doesn’t fit. Napola – Elite Für Den Führer feels right as a movie, but I never felt that the school children felt like they belonged next to that Nazi symbol and all the trappings of Nazism that we see throughout the film. Please don’t misconstrue what I am saying, I do realize that I have not been exactly clear in my point, but what I just wrote is a good thing. Those kids aren’t Nazis, they are just kids and I feel Mr. Gansel is giving us a slice of history while saying that these kids were no different than any other kid throughout history. They were easily swayed and molded to what the Nazi party wanted them to be, and isn’t that what most schools here in the land of the free and the brave do today, mold kids into what our society deems they should be?

Napola – Elite Für Den Führer stumbles a bit in its portrayal of Heinrich Stein, he is a bit too on the nose as Albrecht’s father. He serves his purpose, but I’m not sure if his purpose was necessary. The story doesn’t really need him to say what it needs to say, or at the very least the character didn’t need to be so relentlessly one dimensional. Mr. Gansel also could have opened up a bit more with his camera. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the beauty he did find with his camera could have happened more often. He did manage to avoid all the usual sports tropes though, and for that I salute him.

I was looking for a nice change of pace in my World War II Marathon, and Napola – Elite Für Den Führer provided that while also managing to be a very good film. Don’t get me wrong, I love World War II, and I love a good World War II movie that delves into the war or the Holocaust. But, Napola – Elite Für Den Führer was different in a good way and when done right there’s nothing wrong with different. Napola – Elite Für Den Führer isn’t really a sports movie either, just in case that’s what the blurbs on the DVD slip left you thinking. Napola – Elite Für Den Führer is an engaging treatise on the molding of children in perhaps the most interesting time in all of history. Most of all Napola – Elite Für Den Führer is a very good film that deserves to be seen by more people, so give it a chance why don’t ya!

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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