1930 Lewis Milestone classic All Quiet on the Western Front was based on the 1928 novel by Erich Maria Remarque and was the first book adaptation to win the Best Picture Oscar, as well as the first Best Picture Oscar winner to also win Best Director. Since then, filmmakers have hardly touched it, with the exception of a 1979 remake of the TV movie directed by Delbert Mann, which starred Richard Thomas. This has now changed, and to a large extent, since the book was finally accepted by Germany with director Edward Berger (Patrick Melrose, Your Honor) an adaptation that finally shows us a perspective from the German side. It has already been selected as Germany’s entry into the 95th Oscars International Feature Film Race and had its world premiere on Monday at the Toronto Film Festival.
This Netflix movie, which will also hit theaters, is a large-scale epic production that looks much more expensive than it actually costs, including battle scenes that depict the sacred horror of war just as poignantly as any other. that were featured in the film. The story of a young German soldier named Paul on the western front of World War I remains as powerful as ever, but even gains additional weight at a time when another war is raging in Europe in Ukraine and the winds of war continue. ignite conflicts in various parts of the globe. Time is right again for a movie that shows us that war is not a video game, and this one does it very well.
In fact, there are some spectacular scenes at the very beginning showing how Paul and his friends are almost euphoric at the prospect of registering and going to fight for Germany, one scene is especially shocking when they appear at a fanatical rally, excited to be on the verge of battle. Be careful what you wish for. In fact, it all starts tragically, with the death of a soldier on the battlefield who met his end in the line of fire of French machine guns. Before he finds his final resting place in a mass grave, his uniform and boots are removed and then sent home to be recycled for another soldier. In this case, it’s Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer), who is only 17 and still in high school but wants to fight the French.
This is not a game, as he and the other soldiers soon find out during the attack where he is on the front lines. In the rainy trenches and swamps, Paul meets Katczynski (Albrecht Schuch), who seems a little wiser than the others, including Paul’s classmate Ludwig (Adrian Grunewald), as well as his best friend Albert Kropp (Aaron Hilmer), who is there like a bullet. kills Paul, another sign that this won’t be a cakewalk. Another friend, Tjaden (Edin Hasanovic), warns of an even more intense and imminent French attack, and in this breathtaking setting set up by Berger, Paul finds himself buried under the rubble, only to eventually wake up and be forced to do his solemn duty of collecting tokens. of the many dead, including Ludwig. He is devastated, but this is only the beginning.
The story then advances 18 months to November 1918, and things quickly went downhill for the Germans. The realistic and liberal politician Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) tries to convince his superiors to surrender and simply sign a truce. It’s over, at least he thinks so. While the unbending French team, demanding complete and unconditional surrender, and nothing less, continues back and forth, there is “complete silence” on the western front, so Paul and Kat have time for an easier moment, making their way to the farm and chasing one of the geese they are going to eat. It’s also time to think about ending the war and returning to loved ones, including wife Kat, who sends the letter. But the recruits don’t even make it to the front lines, becoming victims of gas attacks. The outlook is bleak.
Meanwhile, Erzberger is at odds with General Friedrich (David Strizow), who is a warmonger, convinced that they must continue this to the very end – never give up, as this is treason. But Erzberger is under intense pressure and only has 72 hours to sign. More death and human tragedy follows during this period as Paul sees truly horrific things, including the effect of people being burned alive by misguided cannon fire; this part is really terrible and Berger doesn’t hold back to show the results. While negotiations are going on (if you can call it that) and the end is being announced, Friedrich has other ideas.
It’s hard trying to remake a film that’s considered a classic (and even though it was released 92 years ago, it still tops lists of the greatest war films ever made), much less trying to take a fresh look at what won the Best Film award. Berger and his collaborators, Leslie Paterson and Ian Stokell, and his top-notch team of artisans are to be congratulated on an attempt that actually turned out to be a smart move. Why not tell this very German story from a German POV for a change? It’s amazing that this hasn’t been done before, but now it’s been done with a film that looks very polished thanks to excellent cinematography by James Friend, production design by Christian M. Goldbeck and amazing music by Volker Bertelmann. Sven Budelmann’s editing is great too, and even at 147 minutes this thing is moving.
Kammerer is very good in the key role of Paul, and Schuh has his moments too. Among the bosses, Brühl, Thibaut de Montalembert and Strizov are strong. Producers: Malte Grunert, Daniel Dreyfus and Berger.
Netflix will begin streaming it on October 28th. Let’s hope these stupid leaders around the world, waging or threatening war, are watching. Berger proves here that All Quiet on the Western Front still has a very loud beat.