Dir. Dennis Gansel.Germany, 2004. 110mins.
Earnest, sincere and vociferously outspoken, DennisGansel's portrait of a 1942 Nazi boarding school breeding the future leaders ofthe Thousand Year Reich must be one of the more diligently produced andenergetically directed films to come out of Germany in recent years.
At the same time it is alsoone of the least original. Working from an extensively researched,award-winning script he co-wrote with Maggie Peren, Gansel delivers his one-twopunches with plenty of relish. But in doing so he brings up, one after theother, all too-familiar sights and sounds.
It goes beyond Naziparaphernalia, paraded in full pomp: there are also the trademarks of films setin colleges and boarding schools from sadistic tutors, over-sensitiveadolescent students, sports competitions pumped up to inordinate importance andhomosexual undercurrents inevitable in coming-of-age dramas when there are nofemales around.
To top it all off there arethe unfeeling parents who sacrifice their children for the sake of their owncareers, or who else are too incompetent and stiff to communicate with theirbrood.
Indeed, Napola looks as good as any top American studio product, for thebetter as well as for the worse.
The use of so many cliches,from the definition of each individual character to the shape of most dramaticscenes, tend to create the uneasy feeling that there is, after all, not muchthat is really exceptional here, since it's all been on the screen before.
Indeed, everything is so neatlyand seamlessly tied up together that Hollywood should start chasing Gansel: Anystudio executives with doubts should see how he has changed gear to Napolafrom his previous feature, the contemporary teen comedy Maedchen, Maedchen.
Critics and audiences maypart company, but Napola will easily fit into any festival programme (itpremiered in competition at Karlovy Vary). Audiences are bound to respondfavourably to the nicely polished black and white narrative, elegantly told infull colour. The film is released in Germany on Oct 14.
Friedrich Weimer (MaxRiemelt) is the naïve 17-year-old son of a metal worker, whose pugilistictalents at an elite Nazi Napola (National-Political Institute of Learning) drawthe attention of a talent scout and instructor (Devid Striesow).
Though his father forbidshim to go, Friedrich, who recognises the opportunity, enthusiastically acceptswithout realising or caring that he is headed for an assembly line whosepurpose is to produce perfect little Nazis.
The perfect Aryan prototype,he is soon introduced into the school's rules and regulations by roommates andlearns to navigate unscathed between sadistic (though cowardly) instructors,narrow-minded tutors and older pupils who indiscriminately throw their weightaround. He listens, with all the rest, to the indoctrination that pours intohis ears morning, noon and night, and tries to fit in, despite his humblesocial standing.
Luckily, his sportingprowess provides his edge over the rest and he soon seems to master all he tries.But his friendship with Albrecht (Tom Schilling), a the sensitive son of ageneral who is tortured by everything his father stands for, finally opens hiseyes to what is going on around him.
Meant as a fierce indictmentof the Napola system, which according to actor Hardy Kruger, a graduate of thesystem, leaves scars on its students that never heal, Gansel's picture displayslavishly inspired art direction, brisk cutting that pushes the plotrelentlessly forward, a dramatic score that underlines all the right momentsand superb camera work.
Max Riemelt, who won BestActor in Karlovy Vary, has the makings of the next heartthrob of German cinema,combining good looks and soul. Tom Schilling is vibrantly conscientious andJustus von Dohnanyi adequately disgusting as his father.
Prod cos: Olga Film, Seven Pictures, Constantin Film
Int'l sales: Bavaria Films International
Ger dist: Constantin
Prods: Molly von Furstenberg, Viola Jager, Harry Kugler
Scr: Dennis Gansel, Maggie Peren
Cine: Torsten Breuer
Ed: Jochen Retter
Prod des: Matthias Musse
Music: Normand Corbeil
Main cast: Max Riemelt, Tom Schilling, Devid Striesow, MichaelSchenk, Justus von Dohnanyi