On October 28, one of the most significant premieres of this year took place on Netflix – the latest adaptation of the novel “On the Western Front without Changes” by Erich Maria Remarque. It is noteworthy that this is only the first German-language film adaptation of the novel. It has already been nominated for an Oscar in the category “Best International Feature Film” from Germany. In this review, we tell what other features the tape has and why it claims universal recognition.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” / All Quiet on the Western Front
Genre military drama
Directed by Edward Berger
Starring Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuh, Aaron Gilmer, Daniel Brühl, Adrian Grünewald
Release year 2022
Germany, 1917. Young Paul Boehmer and his classmates probably could have lived a long and happy life. Fall in love, get married, make your dreams come true. But they were blinded by the hurrah-patriotic propaganda rhetoric that was taking place in then-Kaiser Germany. With smiles on their faces and hopes of a ceremonial march through Paris in a few weeks, these boys found themselves in the very hell of the First World War.
Yesterday’s schoolchildren will become those who will be called the “lost generation”. The imposed image of a heroic, romanticized war will very quickly be replaced by terrible realities on the battlefield. And then will come the realization of the absurdity and futility of everything that is happening around and, ultimately, of one’s own life.
The film by the German director and screenwriter Eduard Berger is already the third adaptation of the immortal Remarch classic. The first was released in the distant 1930 and took two “Oscars” for the best film and director at the first award ceremony. Once banned in Nazi Germany, this epic anti-war film is now rightly considered a great film classic and is on the US National Film Registry.
The second was created for television and appeared in 1979. It already had a more modern and believable depiction of events, primarily due to the development of cinematography itself. This version won the Golden Globe for Best Television Movie. But the third somewhat deviated from the canon compared to its predecessors and introduced new storylines and even characters into the narrative. This movie has many surprises for the viewer.
The story begins with static peaceful shots of majestic nature. Suddenly, this short-lived idyll is interrupted by a scene on the battlefield. James Friend’s camera also changes behavior: now, instead of soothing static, the creators offer frantic dynamics, which are filmed with the help of appropriate traveling.
The manner of filming the outstanding “1917” by Sam Mendes is immediately mentioned here, but suddenly a title appears with the name of the tape, and the dynamics again give way to statics. Because no extra movements are needed to show the mountain of breathless dead soldiers. Their uniforms will still be needed by the next mobilized. Thus, from the very beginning it becomes clear what to expect from this tape.
In addition to the actual military days of Boimer, Kaczynski and other familiar characters, the screenwriters added a storyline in which Matthias Erzberger, played by Daniel Bruhl, tries to negotiate a ceasefire with the French. Thanks to this arch, the authors manage to clearly demonstrate the contrast of existence in dirty, cold trenches and full, warm offices or wagons. In addition, with the help of parallel montage, the negotiations between the feuding parties and the situation at the front are sharply contrasted. While some talk about peace in complete comfort, others have to trample each other in the mud.
In addition, a real villain was added to the story – the principled General Friedrichs, who could not accept defeat even after signing the armistice. While the frozen, tired and hungry Kach and Paul tried to eat poultry from the French farmer, Friedrichs luxuriated. He fed delicious ribs to his dog and glorified the war in conversations with a subordinate major, sitting at a long table (apparently, despots have a two-kilometer table is some kind of fetish).
Berger does not shy away from using artistic means typical of war cinema. But the film does not lose its quality at all because of this, because they are harmoniously woven into the narrative. Especially striking is the scene when a pessimistic alarming melody sounds as a counterpoint at a moment of rare consolation for the heroes, because they managed to have a good dinner with a stolen goose. It is obvious that something bad awaits them ahead.
But, for example, there is no arc when Paul gets a vacation and returns home. But this does not mean that the creators do not talk about the impossibility acquired by young people to adapt in the conditions of normal life. The topic is readable without that, because it is enough just to look at Paul in the climax. This is a deeply broken, devastated, unhappy person, in whose eyes only indifference can be seen. When you are not liquidated physically, you are dead morally. The war has destroyed you as a person, even if you are still breathing. This is one of the leitmotifs in Remarque’s novel.
The climactic act looks especially tragic compared to previous adaptations. The ending pierces the very heart and cannot leave anyone indifferent. The absurdity of the action only once again informs about the absurdity of the phenomenon of war itself. There are no winners here, because in the end, everyone loses to one degree or another. The main character also understands this when he kills Gerard Duval. Under other circumstances, they could be friends, right?
“On the Western Front without changes” of the 2022 model is a relevant anti-war manifesto. This is a technically perfect movie, with scary and brutal, but at the same time perfectly shot and staged fight scenes. When tanks and flamethrowers appear, it gets very creepy.
And the tape is permeated with an atmosphere of hopelessness, supported by cold, “uncomfortable” tones of the frame. Young Felix Kammerer perfectly coped with the extremely difficult role and qualitatively conveyed the tragedy of his character. All plot innovations, without exception, look appropriate and work. Definitely one of the best films of the year.
Pros: excellent production and script, cool acting, realistic depiction of events, interesting and effective twists, successful combination of content and form, topicality, powerful, but not manipulative emotional component Cons: no significant ones were found Conclusion:
The third attempt to transfer Remarque’s text to the screen turned out to be extremely successful. And it is also significantly different from the previous two, although it broadcasts, in fact, the same ideas. This is an outstanding and epic film, which not only takes your breath away, but also makes your chest infinitely tight.