“All Quiet on the Western Front” is a classic that set the standard for anti-war stories. Erich Maria Remarque’s novel and Lewis Milestone’s 1930 film, which won an Oscar, remain crucial to the “war is hell” subgenre, which has become more prevalent since “Apocalypse Now” and “Saving Private Ryan”. A new adaptation of the film might offer fresh perspectives, despite its widespread influence, as war continues and its futility and absurdity persist. Edward Berger’s film, produced in collaboration with Netflix, is the first German-language adaptation of Remarque’s novel, and aims to reclaim it as a key piece of German culture. The film is serious and meticulous, with historical accuracy similar to Sam Mendes’ “1917”.
The film reclaims the novel as a piece of German culture, and the stark contrast between the soldiers’ experience and the officers’ lifestyles drives home the absurdity of war.
Berger and cinematographer James Friend focus on the bleak colors of the Western front, with a palette of dried clay, black smoke, rusty red blood, and orange fire against the mud and rain. The film shows how young boys become broken men, opening with a soldier’s death and ending with abstract numbers reporting mass casualties. The protagonist, Paul Baumer, played by Felix Kammerer, is a 17-year-old infantryman who becomes disillusioned as he witnesses the deaths of his friends and other soldiers. The film differs from Milestone’s adaptation, spending less time exploring the soldiers’ leisure moments, making for a bleaker but less impactful film.
Berger intersperses scenes of German high command, where the contrast between the luxurious lifestyle of officers and the soldiers’ experience on the front is stark. Politician Erzberger, played by Daniel Brühl, wants to end the war, while General Friedrich, played by Devid Striesow, insists on continuing the bloodshed for pride. The film’s standout aspect is its score from Academy Award nominee Volker Bertelmann, which blends mechanical sounds and somber melodies.
While Berger’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” may not offer much new insight into the classic story, it presents a haunting visual portrayal of the futility of war. The film reclaims the novel as a piece of German culture, and the stark contrast between the soldiers’ experience and the officers’ lifestyles drives home the absurdity of war.