All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★½

A German language remake of a seminal Hollywood war epic, All Quiet on the Western Front certainly lives up to its brutal reputation. Edward Berger’s film is visually intoxicating - a muddy, macabre descent into the hells cape of trench warfare. It plays a bit like if 1917 had the visual palette of Come and See, with slightly more emphasis on performance than pure technical wizardry. There’s an immediacy to the conflict that’s as horrifying as it is captivating. The juxtaposition between the rank and file soldiers and their proud superiors, one suffering in squalor while the other bickers over Armistice in their cosy luxury, is also striking. And of course, the performances are solid across the board, especially Felix Kammerer, who was channeling Aleksei Kravchenko big time. Every horror is heightened, every brutality difficult to stomach.

In the bigger picture, I’m not sure it adds much new to the story, or to the WWI film canon in general. It’s pretty much everything you’d expect - the tragic pointlessness, the relentless death, the futility of it all - simply given a particularly striking coat of paint. The constant barrage of death and filth does threaten to bog down the narrative flow somewhat. By the end, you really feel as though you’ve been put through the wringer. I suppose that’s the intention; it’s certainly effective. It just held me back from truly embracing the viewing experience. It certainly doesn’t top Lewis Milestone’s Best Picture-winning classic from 1930 in my mind. I kind of wish I’d seen it at the cinema, on the biggest screen possible with that ominous score surrounding me. Perhaps the immersion would’ve been overwhelming then. As is, it’s just impressive - definitely worth the watch, if not quite one of the year’s best.

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