All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★★½

“The nightmare is over.” Or is it?

It’s a cruel joke to cheat death for your entire tour of service only to die when a war is over. This adaptation of the tragic book captures the bleakness and black luck of war. At any minute you will die, and only then is the nightmare over. Until then it’s a brutal rinse and repeat of asking yourself: “Will I see another day? Is this the end? Is the game up?”

2022’s All Quiet on the Western Front is very different from the original 1930s version that I saw over a summer ago and came to really love. The combat scenes in both are of course really well done, and the acting are both great. On the other hand, Berger sets the story in the historical context of the time with the political and military figures each playing a part in the buildup to and end of war, Daniel Bruhl being one of the key figures, and Philippe Petain, the Marechal, being the other. Not to mention, this film was made in German, and for the most part, consists of German dialogue. This gives the film its more authentic edge.

But what makes this film an even worthier adaptation is the way it pays homage to the original while improving on the predecessor’s anti-war message. First and foremost, while I loved the war sequences, particularly the moment the tanks arrive (deja vu to the mumakil in Return of the King and Empire Strikes Back, I did not lose sight of the horrors of WWI, and the war itself. Hard not to when the battlefield is on fire and shrouded in smoke (beautifully shot) and one of Paul's despairing comrades commits suicide with a fork. :(

In one of Felix Kammerer’s finest acting moments in this film, he stares terrified at the chaos around him, his face caked in mud and the blood of a French soldier he killed (Come and See anyone?). Once again, the scene paying homage to The Man He Killed poem by Thomas Hardy is deeply moving even more so without the dialogue and more emphasis on looks and visual storyteller.

To go back, Berger also did a great job at introducing the viewer to the true ‘disposability’ of these young men serving in this war when he shows a scene of women cleaning and “recycling” bloodstained’ uniforms for the use of a new batch of recruits. War is built into ‘the fabric’ of western society, and in a paradoxical moment, Berger pulls in on a line of sewing machines that sound almost like machine guns. What a symbolic correlation made even more tragic by the fact that women are the rank and file ensuring war continues. Finally, Berger makes sure we remember Heinrich, the young boy who was killed in the opening, after Paul Baumer mentions the name tag on his new uniform. A final farewell to this young man who we wouldn’t have known or loved if not for his first scene. As Paul said, “this belonged to someone.”

Quickly exposed to the horrors of combat, the soldiers we follow only have each other for support, and it is in conditions like those can men live by the moment and try to enjoy whatever they can get from a simple goose dinner to a girl’s piece of clothing that they pass between each other.

“Hey, boys I’ll never forget this.””

These scenes, really give you a sense of the companionship present in the armed forces which persists throughout history from the way the older, more experienced officers give advice to the younger ones: “Shoot then move” / Or when Ludwig’s hands are freezing from the cold and an officer tells him, “Put your hands in your trousers.”

On the other hand, one could say that the movie almost feels like a Terrence Malick movie with its allusions to nature as a means of capturing mankind’s role in the world- from the sweeping panoramas to the fox baby intro, which literally killed me. Berger brings us into the real ‘quiet on the western front’ and how it is invaded by the sin of war. If it is worth anything, this film deserves commendation for its sound design. As for the cinematography, the stock footage does get a little repetitive at times, I am now excited to see Star Wars Acolyte since JAMES FRIEND, the cinematographer of that film, is DPIng it.

Thank you to the Los Feliz Theatre for showing this film weeks ahead of its Netflix release. I can imagine an IMAX 3D version truly capturing the sound design and scope of the visuals. But it was still a great experience seeing a 'streaming platform' send one of its newest streaming movies to a cineplex.

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