Some films simply demand to be see. Though difficult at times to watch, Before The Fall is a sympathetic and poignant telling of one teenager’s traumatic experiences within the idealised world of an academy specifically designed to groom young men for high positions within the Third Reich.
Berlin, 1942. Having just left school Fredreich Weimer (Max Riemelt) looks set for a career at the local factory. However in his spare time Fredreich is a promising young boxer and when he is spotted during a fight by a teacher from a school specifically aimed at grooming elite Nazi soldiers, he is offered the opportunity to leave poverty behind for the promise of better things. Against his parent’s wishes Fredreich enrols at the school, where he befriends a fellow pupil Albrecht Stein (Tom Schilling) whose father is the armies area commander. Though initially shocked by the school’s brutal regime, Fredreich soon settles in becoming a hardened version of his former self, until events take a tragic turn and he is forced to make decisions which will shape the rest of his life.
There is simply no other word to describe German director Dennis Gansel’s harrowing tale of Fredreich’s abrupt coming of age than stunning. From the grey war torn Berlin which Fredreich is desperate to escape, to the fairytale fortress which houses the elite academy where his dreams are built up only to be dashed, the film’s locations in Germany and the Czech Republic, are just as important as the story which plays out against them. Nowhere else could provide a setting at once both bleak yet bewitching which perfectly highlights the cruelty disguised beneath the idealistic surface of service for the Führer Land.
The army hierarchy, in particular a sadistic sports master whose methods of ‘hardening’ the members of the Hitler’s future Aryan race lead to the cataclysmic event which finally opens Fredreich’s eyes, are haunting in their coldness and dedication to the cause. However it is Riemelt’s performance as Fredreich which is truly a marvel. His heartrending breakdown towards the film’s climax where the reality of his situation suddenly becomes clear to him will stay with you long after the final credits roll. His revulsion at what unfolds around him makes you realise that there were as many good and honest Germans who were appalled at the war and its destruction of humanity as there were people elsewhere.
One of the most puzzling things about the film is why it took nearly ten years from it’s initial release for it to appear on DVD. Foreign language films are often notoriously hard to see outside of their country of origin (Before The Fall apparently showed in one screen on its opening weekend in the US in 2005), which is unfortunate as they often have something much deeper to say about their country than films produced by Hollywood etc. ever could. I urge you to see it on DVD – like the cruelties of the war it depicts this film will haunt you forever.