German pics take fresh look at Nazi era

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Perhaps no era in human history has provided more cinematic fodder than Germany's Nazi reign. But until recently, most filmmakers have steered clear of any attempts to humanize the period's everyday German, especially the myriad Nazi followers.

The newest film to tackle Germany's Nazi past is Dennis Gansel's "Before the Fall" (Napola), which Picture This Entertainment opens Friday in Los Angeles, also engages the verboten with an evocative coming-of-age story told against the backdrop of an elite yet barbaric Nazi academy.

Gansel says he chose the subject matter in an attempt to come to terms with his family history. His grandfather was a student and later a teacher at a Nazi war academy similar to the one depicted in "Before the Fall."

"All his life until his death 10 years ago, he wanted us -- the grandchildren -- to understand how the system worked, what made him so excited about fascism," Gansel says. "My father never understood it because he was very left wing, and there was no real communication between my grandfather and my father. It took another generation, which is my sister and me, to understand it."

But "Before the Fall" is no Nazi valentine. In fact, through its honest depiction of how a young German is seduced by the system, the film becomes a more effective indictment of the Nazis' brutal regime than the more traditional one-dimensional representations.

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