All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★★½

"There's no peace, so it doesn't matter."

War has rarely been as hopeless and brutal as it is in Edward Berger's anti-war epic 'All Quiet on the Western Front,' a masterful WWI tale from the perspective of the Germans and specifically a group of young friends with romantic ideas of what their time in uniform will be like. It's devastating in how it opens these boys up to a life they're not ready for, one packed with starvation, decay, death and destruction, both amongst themselves and on both sides of the war effort as a whole. Interspersed with these moments of humanity and sequences of breathtaking battles are the diplomatic attempts by both the Germans and the French to reach the infamous Armistice agreement that would save countless lives...yet with every passing hour, thousands more are killed.

The film is so tightly balanced - sometimes blunt, sometimes subtle - between the raw humanity of these characters and the sympathy they inspire despite being our wartime enemy. The juxtaposition of the armistice talks and peace negotiations, which are adorned in fine clothes, a quiet atmosphere and delicious food, with the bloated bodies, severed limbs and fiery destruction strewn across No Man's Land is haunting. There's also a stark hunger balance between those sitting cozy in their train cars complaining about day-old croissants and the soldiers drinking dirt-soaked and bloody water.

And of course, the horrors of war are laid bare for all to see, whether it's a soldier choking on his own blood, knowing his time is up, or the unthinkable massacre of a pack of young soldiers too inexperienced to realize they removed their gas masks too early during a gas attack, sealing their fates in an abandoned factory. Time waits for no one and it's absolutely crushing seeing their hopes, dreams and aspirations fade as their personalities are irreversibly altered and their lives are cut way too short due to the politics of the time, all catalyzed by the firing of a bullet and the assassination of one man.

I was incredibly eager to finally get a chance to see this and I'm delighted to say that the unflinching and cold 'All Quiet on the Western Front' doesn't disappoint. War genre fans will have plenty to admire here, aided by the breathtaking performances from the entire cast and even that atmospheric, droning, almost terrifying score from Volker Bertelmann, one of the finest of the year and one entirely deserving of its awards recognition. The cinematography is also fantastic, crafting shades of beauty and peace out of a war that had no such kindnesses to offer. It's a magnificent feat and yet another international film of late that I'm so happy is receiving the accolades and praise it's gotten. This one's a real piece of art.

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