All Quiet on the Western Front is the newest adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name. Directed by Edward Berger, it stars Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Daniel Brühl, Sebastian Hülk, Aaron Hilmer, Edin Hasanovic, and Devid Striesow. I was lucky enough to speak to Malte Grunert, a producer on the film.
Jillian Chilingerian: First of all, congratulations on the Oscar nominations.
Malte Grunert: Thank you very much.
JC: I first read the book when I was in high school for my European history class, and I remember watching the movie which was was very chilling. I love that we finally get a German perspective on World War One. What does it mean to you to finally have the German perspective represented on film?
MG: One thing that was interesting and appealed to us was adding this very particular German perspective to the conversation. Obviously from a U.S. or U.K. perspective, there’s a completely different heritage and memory of both world wars of the U.S. and the U.K. defending themselves. They had been attacked, so they were forced into a war. They acted in self-defense and they came out victorious in the Second World War, liberating Europe from Nazi terror.
War stories or war films sort of can be told about heroes. They can be a hero’s journey. The German perspective is clearly very difficult and to tell a heroic story about war to me seems impossible as a German. The German context is one of guilt, shame, and responsibility to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Adding that perspective to a genre where so many great films have been made with that twist seemed like an interesting undertaking.
JC: Going back to comparing this to other war films, I was really surprised to see the budget of this film because it has such a massive scale but also feels so intimate, and I’m wondering about those decisions.
MG: I think it was very clear and the decision of Edward and me supporting it to tell this film in a very direct way. It’s with one exception, and that is the story strand about the sort of armistice negotiations. It’s always about Paul, our hero’s perspective of what he feels, what he’s shocked by, and what he’s afraid of. The poetry or solace he finds. It is very direct and that is apparent in the camera work and the editing.
It was also one of the notes that Edward gave to Volker Bertelmann, our composer, to make sure that his score had the same perspective. In terms of scale, we had to plan really well, because we had 51 days, 52 in the end, to make the film. There was a lot of very, very careful planning in order to be able to achieve, especially the battle sequences. We leapfrog cameras and hardly ever had any setups with multiple cameras running. That requires planning, but it also hopefully gives a more intimate sense.
JC: I want to say this is a remake [of the 1930 adaptation of the novel], but it also doesn’t feel like it. When you were working to get this made, how were you able to convince everyone that this needed to be onscreen and make sure you had the right collaborators to bring that vision to fruition without compromising your vision?
MG: When we embarked upon making this film, it was an intimidating thing. Not just because you’re sort of you’re going back to a seminal novel, but also to an absolute masterpiece of a film. Lewis Milestone’s first adaptation is on many great directors’ top ten film lists. It’s scary to to to do that. When when the opportunity presented itself, to me, it was very clear that the fact that this had never been made in its original language in German was an obvious blind spot. That was the first decision that Edward and I took and then took the project to market as a German language film.
Everybody we spoke to was incredibly supportive and our partners at Netflix are part of the reason why it’s more acceptable now to see films or series in the original language. In today’s world and especially in a context like All Quiet on the Western Front, credibility seemed to be much more important than accessibility through doing it in the English language. The German language was actually never questioned. It was really Edward’s and my decision to do it in German and bring it back closer to the novel that I think made it possible.
JC: I agree with you, I think the language adds another aspect to the point of view with the expressions and the emotions behind the words. What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
MG: When we decided to try and make it, the reason why we felt it is relevant today isn’t only to remind us of the horrors of war. The film has gotten horrifying relevance because of the war in Ukraine, but the escalation of that was unforeseeable when we embarked upon the film. The film is not a commentary on the rights of self-defense or the best way of putting that self-defense into action. What we were hoping the story would remind us of is something different.
It’s a story of young men who fall prey to right-wing nationalistic propaganda such as we hear again. That kind of hate speech, lies, and propaganda have entered the political discourse over the last 15 years again. These young men fall prey to this propaganda and enlist and go to war, thinking of war as an adventure. They think they’re going to be in Paris in two weeks’ time and what they find is war, which is death, suffering, and pain.
Hopefully, the film can also remind us how important it is as a society to defend and resist these lies, right-wing propaganda, and attacks on international organizations such as the United Nations, European Union, or NATO. It can also be a reminder of what could happen if we fail to defend our society from that.
You can read our review of All Quiet on the Western Front here.
Jillian has also interviewed Heike Merker, from the Makeup and Hairstyling team, and Frank Petzold, from the Visual Effects team, about their work on the film, which you can read here.