‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ film review
All Quiet on the Western Front is based on the famous novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque who served in the Imperial German Army in World War I. He fought on the western front and was wounded by shrapnel. The book serves as a lasting, generational anti-war story that should be viewed by the public. Remarque's anti-war sentiments got him label as "unpatriotic" by Joseph Goebbels during the rise of Nazi Germany, which led to Remarque's move to Switzerland and then the U.S. The book sold over 2.5M copies in its first 18 months in print, still it was banned and burned by the Nazis. Remarque left Germany left just before the outbreak of World War II.
The film has been made two times prior, in 1930 and in 1979 for television. The original film won the Oscar for Best Director for Lewis Milestone and Outstanding Production for Carl Laemmle, Jr, who founded Universal Studios. The original also spawned a sequel, The Road Back in 1937. The TV version won Emmys as well.
The Netflix version of the film from 2022 follows teenagers Paul Bäumer, his friends, Albert and Müller, who enlist in the German Army for World War I. The boys are influenced by jingoism and patriotic propaganda to join and find the honeymoon is over very shortly once they arrive at the front. The boys find fear, death and brutality at every turn. Bäumer's notions of war, brotherhood, the enemy and the morality of fighting are reduced to ashes well before the midway point of the film. He is left with the role of continued fighting with no real point, which places our hero in a predicament worth watching.
The film stars Felix Kammerer as Paul, Albrecht Schuch as Stanislaus "Kat" Katczinsky, Aaron Himler as Albert and Moritz Klaus as Müller. The film is recited by Edward Berger, and written by Berger, Lesley Patterson and Ian Stokell. The cinematography is done by James Friend with a stirring score by Volker Bertelmann. The movie won seven awards at the 76th British Academy Film Awards including Best Film and won four Oscars at the 95th Academy Awards which include Best International Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Production Design. It also won eight awards at the German Film Awards including the Silver Award for Best Picture.
We are immediately thrust into the youthful world of Paul and his friends. They join the Imperial German Army following a patriotic speech given at their school and are headed to the front. They unknowingly receive uniforms from soldiers who died previously in battle. It is a chilling set of moments on the screen once this realization sets in. All the fun and camaraderie nearly cease to exist by the time the boys are on the battlefield. They do find one fellow soldier who befriends them with Stanislaus aka Kat. One of Paul's friends dies very quickly on the front from an artillery shell on their first night. The boys begin to become men as their innocence is further washed away by violence and death.
All the while the young men are growing up fast the German high command is withholding from an armistice even though the German State Secretary is trying to persuade them. The bubble these German senior officers live in as they roll the dice with their young soldiers' lives is tragic, sickening and likely a product of the German society of the time. Even with Supreme Allied Commander Foch giving the Germans 72 hours to accept the terms for an armistice, the Germans still go on the offensive. Further brutal trench warfare ensues as our main characters continue to fight for survival.
Some rare humorous moments are mixed in, maybe dark humor, that is accurate in wartime situations. These touch points added by the director and crew make the characters transcend the screen and make us as audience members feel like we are there on the ground in 1918. Riveting and scary stuff, especially speaking from experience. I would gladly watch this film again although I would abstain from any caffeine or sugar as the movie will get you amped up enough as it is.
The movie wraps on an interesting note which will be saved for your viewing. We come away with the reasons that Remarque wrote the novel, his likely experiences in World War I, what can happen to young minds when encouraged in the wrong direction and how precious the innocence of life is, especially to those who have lost it through war. If possible, watch this film in a theater on the silver screen. The haunting score will further rivet you to your seat as the action and drama pick up. You will feel the audience's emotions and responses which make for a breathtaking and hard-to-forget experience.
Post the screening of the film at the David Geffen Theater at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures we were treated to a talkback with many top members of the film's cast and crew. They include director/co-screenwriter/producer Edward Berger, producer Malte Grunert, who introduced the picture, then both gentlemen with star Albrecht Schuch, co-screenwriters Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell, hair and makeup designer Heike Merker, composer Volker Bertelmann, sound designer Markus Stemler, and visual effects supervisor Frank Petzold discuss the film with Brian Williams. It was a sincerely enlightening session with much candor, humor and insight into the film's development, filming and editing.
All members of the panel shared their contributions and dedication to the film, which made the screening all the more fulfilling and interesting. Most notable was Ian Stokell's military veteran influence on the film as he served in the British Army in the 1970s with a deployment to Northern Ireland and his father fought in World War II. He has a rich family lineage in the military which certainly helped make his impact felt and seen in All Quiet on the Western Front. I give the film 4 out of 4 Red Star Clusters and definite must-watch, especially for those in the military or who have served. Do watch the talkback session after seeing the film as it adds to your experience.