Before the Fall (also known as NaPolA: Hitler's Elite; German: Napola - Elite für den Führer) is a 2004 feature film from Germany. The film was directed by Dennis Gansel who also co-wrote the film with Maggie Peren while Viola Jäger, Harald Kügler and Molly von Furstenberg produced the film. Max Riemelt and Tom Schilling star in the lead roles.
In 1942, Friedrich Weimer (Max Riemelt), a factory worker who takes boxing lessons, faces an opponent from a National Political Academy (NaPolA), a high school serving as an entry to the Nazi elite. Despite losing the match, he is invited to join and later, defying his father, he joins the NaPolA seeing it as a way to set himself up in the future. The idealistic view of the NaPolA is quickly ended by the harsh and rigid discipline given to those who do not adhere to the strict rules and the bullying from older students. Siegfried Gladen (Martin Goeres), a fellow student, receives repeated public humiliation due to his tendency to wet the bed while sleeping.
While attending classes teaching the Nazi Party ideals he continues to train in boxing for an upcoming match against another NaPolA. His teacher (Dennis Gansel) tells him to be more ruthless and to show no compassion for the opponent. During this time, a new student Albrecht Stein (Tom Schilling), the son of the new governor, arrives at the school. Friedrich and Albrecht quickly become friends with Albrecht acknowledging that his talents are writing and in the arts rather than the physical demands of the NaPolA, which his parents do not see do not believe to be a suitable career for a man. Friedrich's first fight against another NaPolA student results in him overpowering his opponent and delivering a brutal knockout punch while his opponent was on the canvas. He is congratulated by the staff and students alike with the exception of Albrecht who argues that he should have been more compassionate.
One day, the seventh year students are taken to the school grounds trenches where the sports instructor Josef Peiner (Michael Schenk) shows them how to use live Stielhandgrenates. The students successfully throw the grenade until Martin panics and drops the grenade. The sports instructor screams for the students to leave. However, they all remain while the instructor leaves the trench. Siegfried, who had been publicly humiliated by the instructor on numerous times, pushes through the crowd of students and jumps on the grenade just before it explodes. Siegfried's funeral is later held at the school with Gauleiter Heinrich Steiner (Justus von Dohnányi), Albrecht's father, posthumously awards him the Lifesaving Medallion.
Albrecht later invites Friedrich to visit the family home for his fathers birthday. Gauleiter Steiner almost immediately criticizes Albrecht and, as a former boxer, is more interested in Friedrich. The two boys are taken to the basement to compete in a boxing match. Friedrich initially refuses to fight but, at the urging of Albrecht, easily wins the fight. The two return to the school but initially are not on friendly terms.
During the winter, after the older students volunteer to fight at the front, a convoy of military vehicles arrive at night with the seventh-year class being called outside. They are informed by Gauleiter Steiner that a group Soviet prisoners of war had escaped after overpowering their guards and are on the run after stealing weapons. The boys are armed with guns and taken to the woods to search for them. The group, which includes Friedrich and Albrecht, end up deep into the frozen wood. After catching a glimpse of movement, the boys open fire but are shocked to find that they are boys of the same age. Albrecht attempts to save one of the boys but his father arrives and shoots the Soviet boy. As they are returning to the NaPolA, they see the other POWs being rounded up and later hear gunfire.
The next day, Albrecht reads aloud an essay condemning the execution of the Soviet POWs as a criminal act and his own participation as "evil". The outraged school authorities call his father who demands a second essay, apologizing for his outburst, but instead writes an essay criticizing his father who later informs Albrecht that he will be drafted into the Waffen SS to fight on the Eastern front where the Germans were suffering their first major set back at Stalingrad. The following morning, the sports instructor wakes the students in the early hours and orders them to a frozen lake near the NaPolA with the boys being instructed to swim between two holes in the ice using a rope the first student pulls through as a guide. After Friedrich successfully makes the swim, Albrecht dives in but does not come out having decided to end his life.
A distraught Friedrich writes an obituary for the newspaper Albrecht had been writing but the headmaster refuses to publish it saying there "is no place for suicides" when people are dying for the Fuhrer. Gauleiter Steiner, believing him to be complicit in Albrecht's death, warns him that an upcoming boxing match against another NaPolA student will determine his future at the NaPolA while scouts will also be present. Friedrich overpowers his opponent but does not deliver the final blow and stands impassively as he is knocked out resulting in a humiliated defeat for the NaPolA. The next day Friedrich is expelled and is forced to change into the summer clothes he had arrived in before gathering his belongings. Friedrich, unable to talk to his fellow students, is shoved through the NaPolA gates and, after briefly looking back, walks off into the falling snow.
The films ends with a narration explaining that, until 1945, there were 40 NaPolA's across the German Reich with more than 15,000 students with many being sent to fight in the streets during the "Final Struggle" when the Nazi authorities had acknowledged the war had been lost. The students, fanatics blinded by years of indoctrination, offered bitter resistance to the advancing Allied forces in many battles despite being insufficiently armed, resulting in toughly half the students dying.
- Max Riemelt as Friedrich Weimer
- Tom Schilling as Albrecht Stein
- Jonas Jägermeyr as Christoph Schneider
- Leon Alexander Kersten as Tjaden
- Thomas Drechsel as Hefe
- Martin Goeres as Siegfried 'Siggi' Gladen
- Florian Stetter as Justus von Jaucher
- Devid Striesow as Heinrich Vogler
- Joachim Bissmeier as Dr. Karl Klein 'Karl der Große' / Anstaltsleiter
- Michael Schenk as Josef Peiner 'Peiniger' / Sportlehrer
- Justus von Dohnanyi as Gauleiter Heinrich Stein
- Claudia Michelsen as Frau Stein
- Julie Engelbrecht as Katharina
- Johannes Zirner as Torben Send
- Dennis Gansel as Boxing Trainer
|Constantin Film||Germany||2005, theatrical|
|Highlight Film||Germany||2005, DVD|
|Atypfilm||Czech Republic||2005, theatrical|
|Cathay-Keris Films||Singapore||2005, theatrical|
|Kamras Film Group||Finland||2004, theatrical|
|Lighthouse Pictures||Singapore||2005, theatrical|
|Picture This! Entertainment||Canada and United States of America||2005, theatrical|
|Rialto Film AG||Switzerland||2005, theatrical|
|Øst for Paradis||Denmark||2005, theatrical|
|Constantin Film||Germany||2005, DVD|
|Divisa Home Video||Spain||2006, DVD|
|Gateno Films||Peru||2006, all media|
|Just Entertainment||Netherlands||2006, DVD|
|Kamras Film Group||Finland||2005, DVD|
|Palisades Pictures||United States of America||2005, all media|
|Parasol Pictures Releasing||United Kingdom||2005, all media|
|Rentrack Japan Co. Ltd.||Japan||2006, DVD|