All Quiet On The Western Front Film 2022: A Historian’s Review

Generations of historians, scholars of literature and schoolchildren know intimately Im Westen Nicht Neues (In the west, nothing is new), which is perhaps the seminal fictionalization of the experiences of (young) men fighting in the Great War.

Originally serialized in 1928, the novel by German writer and former serviceman Erich Maria Remarque was a firm rejection of the established genre of adventure war fiction, with its intention of depicting the cruelty of the conflict and its impact on the human body and mind. Now, more than nine decades after its publication and the release of the first (Oscar-winning) adaptation in 1930, the story has been adapted into German for the first time. It’s a decision that immediately cultivates a quiet authority.

The film centers on 17-year-old Paul Baümer (played by Felix Kammerer), and his friends Albert Kropp (Aaron Hilmer), Franz Müller (Moritz Klaus) and Ludwig Behm (Adrian Grünewald), who all decide to enlist in 1917 It traces their journey from young idealists, awaiting adventure and the opportunity to cement their masculinity, to men horrified by the realities of industrialized conflict.

For those familiar with World War I cinema, there are common characterizations in In the west, nothing is new: the terrified boy desperate to get home; the more experienced soldier who is (mostly) good at managing his emotions; the disabled soldier concerned about his future prospects; the men of authority who manipulate recruits and espouse the honor of war (the viewer cannot fail to spot the irony in the phrase: “The Kaiser needs soldiers, not children.”) But he is important to note that this is true to the spirit of Remarque’s novel, which was part of the contemporary literature that provided the initial inspiration for such tropes in British and Hollywood cinema.

An extra layer to the Note story

Where the film deviates the most from the source material is in its presentation of an extra layer to the story (achieved by omitting Paul’s training for the service and his visit home on leave). These are regular scenes of what happens behind the lines, featuring the (real) politician Matthias Erzberger (played by Daniel Brühl) as he negotiates for an armistice, and General Friedrich (Devid Striesow ), who is determined that his troops will fight. to the end rather than submit to a capitulation. Erzberger carries a personal drive that accelerates his moral conviction that the war must end, and these scenes set off an atmosphere of racing against time as the viewer anticipates whether Paul and his friends can endure.

In the daily experiences of the group, there are resonances to the emotions felt by WWI soldiers across nationalities. These include excitement at the arrival of the mail, joy at food (and misery when supplies are low), and humor in surreal, bleak circumstances. The film also explores the anxiety the military can feel during periods of prolonged bombardment.

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As the story progresses, Paul’s circle expands to more experienced soldiers Stanislaus ‘Kat’ Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch) and Tjaden Stackfleet (Edin Hasanovic). Paul and Kat’s friendship is central to the film, with the latter serving as an (unconventional) father figure. In the novel, the power of the couple’s friendship is often unspoken, but the adaptation includes new scenes that delve into their dynamic. Two of these additions underscore the physical – but not emotional – separation from loved ones.

Remark’s idea of ​​a disconnect between soldiers and civilians is nevertheless acquiesced by Kat: “All they will want to know is if we fought hand-to-hand. We will walk like travelers in a landscape of the past. As in other First World War films, depictions of camaraderie are frequent, and here its employment sometimes includes tactile attention, from preening a uniform to an embrace.

Invoke the desire of home

Director Edward Berger’s thoughtful use of material culture creates additional emotional threads. A uniform badge, a scarf, a theater poster, photographs all tell a story (some related to the novel). The wider visuals are impressive. Beautiful landscapes add moments of tranquility, with the juxtaposition of forests, hills, and sunrises with the chaos of No Man’s Land evoking both the desecration of warscapes and the longing for domestic landscapes.

Indeed, a passage in the novel sees Paul suddenly struck by visions of his city:[English translation] The lights of the parachutes rise upwards – and I see a picture, one summer evening, I am in the cloister of the cathedral and I look at the large rose bushes which bloom in the middle of the small garden of the cloister […] Between the meadows behind our town stands a row of old poplars near a stream […] We loved them very much, and the image of those days still makes my heart beat faster. »

The film’s use of idyllic landscapes bears similarities to another recent WWI film – Sam Mendes 1917 – which featured the cherry blossom as a motif.

Environmental visuals are a powerful force in In the west, nothing is newvisceral battle scenes. Representing the sensory experience of trench warfare, Paul exists close to the earth, sheltering in shell holes, crawling along No Man’s Land. With a close-up of mud encrusted on half of his face, it’s as if Paul himself is subsumed into the landscapes of war.

In keeping with the novel’s unflinching depictions of war, the film contains harrowing scenes of acts of violence and their aftermath, featuring the use of weapons such as bayonets, sharpened shovels, tanks, and lances. flames, and the resulting graphic injuries.

The camera compels the viewer to follow Paul, vicariously experiencing the tumult of battle and the desperate frenzy of close combat. In the final stages of the film, Paul fatally remarks to Kat, “I can’t throw away two years worth of hand grenades like a pair of socks.” We will never get rid of the stench. One of the most moving scenes, from the novel, sees Paul confronting the reality of death in the most intimate way as he is forced to stay close to a Frenchman whom he has mortally wounded.

Speaking of ends, it’s hard to match the power of the 1930 In the west, nothing is newThe conclusion to , which has remained one of the most memorable moments in World War I cinema, striking in its simplicity and symbolism. However, the 2022 adaptation manages to create its own elegy for the men who haven’t returned home.

With a terrific cast and a gripping score by Volker Bertelmann, In the west, nothing is new is by far the most powerful example of its kind in recent years. Indeed, it makes a strong case for being the best World War I film to date.

In the west, nothing is new is available to stream on Netflix from Friday, October 28

Bethany Wyatt is a cultural historian of the First World War. You can find her on Twitter @wyattbeth

About Herbert L. Leonard

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