Almost a whole century had to pass before the Germans finally made a film based on one of their most famous novels, which could be found in our bookstores and libraries under the name “Nothing New in the West”. World War I veteran Erich Maria Remarque described his experiences in the trenches in his literary masterpiece, first published in serials of the Berlin Vossissche Zeitung at the end of 1928, then bound in January of the following year and sold 2.5 million copies in the following 18 months. on the western front. “Im Western nichts Neues” in the original or “All Quiet on the Western Front” in the English translation and its sequel were already on the Nazi list of banned books for several years because Goebbels and his team described them as unpatriotic and decided to burn them, and Remarqeu German citizenship was revoked.
He escaped the Nazi regime by fleeing to the USA via Switzerland, where he returned after the war and spent the rest of his life there. It is interesting how Remarque was a big face in Germany in that short period from the publication of his epoch-making book to the moment when he was targeted by the Nazis. He was in a relationship with famous beauties and actresses of the time such as Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich and the Mexican Dolores Del Rio, and the first film after “Nothing New in the West” was shot in Hollywood in 1930 and won the Oscar for the best film and direction. The great task of making a film based on Remarque’s anti-war novel has now been taken on by Edward Berger, a director who previously had experience in filming Hollywood series, and the result is sensational.
If there is no recent “1917.” Sam Mendes a few years ago, I would dare to say that Berger made the best film about the First War in the 21st century. “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a film that brilliantly shows all the absurdity of trench warfare from the First World War, and Berger has confirmed himself as an extremely capable director who knows how to present such a large production. Everything we see here from start to finish is shocking and gruesome, and perhaps the best and most realistic depiction of the First World War conflict ever. In a terrifying way, we learn here all that chaos, loneliness and despair of the soldiers squeezed in the trenches who are waiting for the officer’s order to run out and then be mowed down by a machine gun from a trench located a few hundred meters on the other side.
The story starts there in the spring of 1917, when the battle line on the French front was established a long time ago and has not moved for years. Millions have already died on both sides, but neither one nor the other is thinking of retreating. And why would you, because there are obviously as many naive kids as you want, so 17-year-old Paul Bäumer (Felix Krammerer) will voluntarily join the war with his company. And after the training is over and they are all sent to the trenches, practically all of his friends will die on the first day of the war, and Paul is the only one who managed to survive, and in the trenches he befriends a slightly older, illiterate soldier, Stanislaus Katzcinsky (Albrecht Schuch), to whom he reads letters his wife.
Then we travel a year and a half into the future, to the last days of the war, in November 1918, when it is already clear that Germany has been defeated. In addition to the story from the trenches, from the front line, we are now following two parallel actions. In one, we see the German politician Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) traveling to negotiate with the French, ready for peace talks, but the French ask him to sign an unconditional capitulation. However, the fact that Germany is preparing to sign defeat is by no means satisfied by the imperial army, which continues to live in delusions and illusions about heroism, glory and the past. While the soldiers are dying as if on a conveyor belt in the trenches, dying of hunger, dysentery, cold and infectious diseases, those generals far behind the battle lines, over roasts and wine, make some plans of their own.
Regardless of the signing of peace, General Friedrichs (David Striesow), who grew up with the stories of his father, an officer in Bismarck’s army, and the legends of victories in all wars, plans to end the war in a different way. The scenes of fighting and life in the trenches are presented here in an astounding way and one simply has to wonder how anyone could return home healthy and normal after such a cruel war. Volker Bertelmann’s minimalist and pulsating music is also great, which seems so ominous and foreshadows all the danger of the situation that awaits the characters. It’s a brutal and powerful film, a gruesome anti-war drama that the Germans rightly singled out as their Oscar candidate.