All Quiet on the Western Front serves to remind us of the horrors not just of combat, but the psychological torment warfare inflicts on those serving.
The first German-language adaptation of the classic anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque is an excruciating, brutal, impassioned film from director Edward Berger. All Quiet on the Western Front has been adapted before, but the story has never been told in German onscreen and it’s never been shown or told like this. Berger’s adaptation thrusts the audience into World War I to see and hear the carnage of war from the German forces’ trenches. While All Quiet on the Western Front shows combat is hell, Berger creates a hauntingly beautiful adaptation communicating the futility of war.
All Quiet on the Western Front follows Paul (Felix Kammerer), a seventeen-year-old who enlists against his parents’ wishes. Paul and his classmates are caught up in naïve patriotism at the near end of World War I and looking to come back as heroes following what they think will be an easy stroll into France. Instead, the young men are dropped without training into the front lines of intense chaos and carnage. Paul is used as the symbol of innocence lost in the war throughout the film; Kammerer delivers a powerful performance that will haunt you long after the credits roll. Paul’s comrades are Kropp (Aaron Hilmer), Müller (Moritz Klaus), Tjaden (Edin Hasanović) and Kat, with a moving performance from Albrecht Schuch. While the film doesn’t allow for much character development, these characters feel lived in. We see the young men discussing their dreams, their hopes, their aching for what comes next. All Quiet on the Western Front is deeply effective at showing how war diminishes young men to become killing machines without a second thought to their humanity.
The film serves to remind us of not just the horrors of combat, but the psychological torment warfare inflicts on those serving. From the very opening sequence following a soldier being killed to his uniform being removed before placing his corpse into a mass grave and that same uniform being mended and placed on new recruit Paul, All Quiet on the Western Front paints an aching portrait haunted with the premonition that death is always nearby. As Paul watches his comrades violently killed all around him, he is further disorientated by his own existence in the war. Berger’s adaptation never loses sight of the core anti-war messages of Remarque’s novel while still adding in some separate plot lines. One of the additional plot lines focuses on a German High Command officer Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) who works with the French to negotiate a ceasefire. Erzberger, who lost a son in the war, expresses the anguish of those who were against the war and were growing exhausted by men who refuse to let the war end just to save face politically. By adding in the real life Erzberger, Berger’s adaptation is able to even further display how wars are manipulated by men who aren’t on the battlefield yet contribute to deaths of their citizens and destruction of their land.
The brutality onscreen is unrelenting and frames the film more as a horror film; the viciousness of the battle sequences and aftermath of combat are a gut punch to the audience. James Friend’s cinematography is stunning and terrifying all at the same time. Friend’s cinematography combined with Sven Budelmann’s brilliant editing create a visceral experience for the ages. An out-of-this-world score from Volker Bertelmann hypnotizes you from its first note. Bertelmann’s score is relentless and unlike anything you’ve ever heard; it’s achingly modern, yet classically perfect for a period film. The score combined with immersive sound design transports the audience to the middle of battle.
All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the most important films of the year. Experiencing this film leaves you with a feeling of an unrelenting eeriness; while the war is finally over, the effects of it both on land and on the surviving soldiers has just begun. Beger’s film is a haunting look at the inhumane, brutal effects of war on soldiers that will join the ranks of Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now as the most significant pieces of narrative film on war.
Likely: Best International Feature, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score
Should be Considered: Best Picture, Lead Actor (Felix Kammerer), Supporting Actor (Albrecht Schuch)
Release Date: In Select Theaters now; On Netflix October 28, 2022
Where to Watch: In Select Theaters; Netflix
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky