All Quiet on the Western Front Review:
Erich Maria Remarque’s “Im Westen nichts Neues” (In the West Nothing New) was published in 1929, detailing the sheer tragedy of life in the trenches of the First World War. Taking inspiration from his, and his German Comrades’ experiences, the novel was an immediate success, as Remarque’s realistic depiction of trench warfare struck a chord with a world just ten years separated from another global conflict. A little over a year later, the story was adapted into a Hollywood feature, All Quiet on The Western Front, which garnered numerous Academy Awards, becoming the first “Talkie” war film to be honoured as such.
It didn’t take long for the story to be banned in fascist Germany, due to it being deemed anti-war and counterproductive to the nation’s rearmament. Almost a century later, both the novel and film are regarded as classics, as critical learning tools to understand the magnitude of what soldiers experienced during The Great War.
Yet, with such a solidified position in the literary and cinematic canon, the undertaking of a new adaptation seems just as futile as the trench warfare it seeks to depict. However, fellow German Edward Berger, takes this classic tale into a new visual and sonic frontier, transforming it into something more raw, visceral, and piercingly poignant.
This German adaptation faithfully shepherds the source material onto the silver screen, telling the story of Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer, in his feature debut) and his peers who are eager to do their part for the war effort, with little regard for the horrors that await them on the front. Their patriotic ardor is quickly shattered when they are met with ceaseless gunfire and shelling. With their new reality so harshly apparent, Paul and his friends are desperate to make it back home.
Berger approaches his rendition of the source material with a “Malickian” fervor, finding beauty in the brutality of the Western Front. He takes the time to envelop the audience in both harrowing bloodshed and natural beauty, tapping into the inherent duality of man’s destructive nature and the elements’ solemn magnificence. Each shot is carefully curated, with grim attention to detail that enthralls with its sheer technical prowess.
In tandem with cinematographer James Friend, Berger’s camerawork insists on long, unbroken tableaus that force the viewer to observe all the horror and viscera with breathtaking detail. There are many individual shots and sequences that will ingrain themselves into your memory, as Berger’s depiction of barbarism and calamity is both unabashedly vicious and eerily gorgeous. From the explosive opening to the contemplative conclusion, Berger is in complete control of his craft, capturing the despair, hopelessness, and misery of trench warfare with pure force. Rarely, if ever, has the replaceability of humanity been captured with such audacity and authenticity.
Moreover, Volker Bertelmann’s deafening, terror-tinged electronic score, the immaculate production design, and the palpable makeup help cement All Quiet on the Western Front as one of the greatest, and most unrelenting, anti-war epics of all time. Berger and company not only transcend the 1930 original but cement an all-new war movie classic.
The performances also greatly complement the confident filmmaking, as Felix Kammerer perfectly embodies the transformation from a gullible teenager to a grizzled soldier with nuance. With minimal dialogue, each punctuated close-up of his hardened visage and world-weary eyes radiates with a pensive, haunting aura. Daniel Brühl, Albrecht Schuch, and Devid Striesow also bring forward solid performances, rounding out the film’s powerful recreation of the “war to end all wars”.
All Quiet on The Western Front is a powerful and poignant treatise on the hopelessness of war that unearths newfound splendor in the ravaged battlefields of France. Berger’s anti-war epic comes to us more than a century removed from the conflict, starkly reminding its viewers of the toll a man’s war takes on the boys who are embroiled in it. While Paul and his fellow countrymen are doomed to become hapless statistics, their personal stories of sacrifice, resilience, and ultimate acquiescence to a prideful war endure, confronting us with an interminable truth — there are no victors in war.
– Prabhjot Bains