Max Riemelt stars in the World War II boxing movie Before the Fall.
Boxing films are a brilliant way of showing the paradox of German society during the second World War. They focus on a muscular ubermensch who, through hard work and dedication, fights his way out of the clutches of Hitler’s cowardly men and into the heart of the woman he loves. Of course, the homoerotic aspects of the genre – the sweat, the muscles, the tiny shorts – also play to the almost sexual ideal of the super-man (not that one) that the Nazis tried to encourage. The Nazis are always portrayed as malformed, greasy Hitler wannabes which stands in stark contrast against the muscular Aryan perfection that the protagonist represents, and this film is no different.
Before The Fall, heretofore known as BTF, is a coming-of-age boxing story set in Hitler’s Germany. Friedrich Weimer (Max Riemelt) is a promising young boxer who is accepted into the National Political Academy on the strength of his boxing ability. The problem is that, while paying the obligatory lip service to the Nazi cronies that hang around his gym, he’s no Nazi. In fact he holds surprisingly modern opinions, as do his family, which allows modern audiences to easily empathise with them.
As this is a modern German film about the Nazis, there is much hand-wringing to be done. The recurring problem of cartoonish one-dimensionality that plagues the portrayal of Nazis in films is one that comes to define this film as a set of trite clichés and desperate attempts to distance the film-makers from the Nazis, by trying to make them as repellant as possible. It’s as if the film-makers are scared that by portraying just one Nazi sympathetically – perhaps as a victim of circumstance, or as a captive of his ideals – then they open themselves to accusations of Nazi leanings. A story of a Nazi torn between his political beliefs and his morals would be a much more interesting film, and would be a more worthy addition to the Nazi canon than yet another dull boxing film. He eventually fights his way out of repression, with emotional strength, but then you knew that anyway.