All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★★

Watched on Netflix

It has become a tradition: Every year in late summer or fall, Netflix shows films at major film festivals, where the hope is to gain renown and, ideally, a film award or two. 2022 is no exception. "Im Westen Nichts Neues" was already submitted to the Oscars as a German entry before its premiere - so confidence is high.

Yet there was a lot of mistrust in the run-up. Is there really a need for a new adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's novel of the same name, published in 1929? After all, the film version published just one year later is considered an absolute classic. At the time, it won the Oscar for best film, and in 1997 the American Film Institute named it one of the 100 most important U.S. films of all time. So director and co-writer Edward Berger wants to follow in big footsteps. At the same time, one could be curious to see what a modern version of the book might look like. In addition, although the German author Remarque described his own experiences during the First World War, there has never been a German film adaptation. In fact, even the Hollywood version was initially unavailable in this country because the National Socialists were anything but fond of it.

It would hardly be any different with the remake. This time, too, initial euphoria turns into disillusionment and horror. The war is not only particularly brutal. It is also particularly senseless: While people are constantly dying, on both sides of the front, no significant changes occur. Nothing moves forward. Berger savors this senselessness and the massive waste of human life, even beyond the pain threshold. Almost symbolic is an early scene in "Im Westen Nichts Neues" in which Paul receives his uniform and in it is the name of another soldier. He dutifully reports this without realizing what the name means. The audience does, seeing during the introduction how equipment of the fallen soldiers is reused - the death of the men is part of the cycle.

And also the music already announces that the audience has to be prepared for a lot. Whereas in other films the score likes to be dramatic in order to put the audience in the right mood, the German composer Volker Bertelmann, also known under the stage name Hauschka, relies on a brutal, booming sound that one would rather expect in a horror film. Visually, however, gray tones dominate in "Im Westen Nichts Neues". Especially when Berger takes us to the trenches, the world transforms into a parallel world of mud and dirt, from which all life and color has drained away. Like so much of the film, this is not overly subtle. But it is very effective nonetheless.

In general, the anti-war film is one that leaves a great impression and should therefore be seen on the biggest screen as far as possible. In contrast to the novel, which still shows a world outside the war with scenes at school or during the home leave, here the perspective is clearly narrowed. Only the short excursions to the peace negotiations and the aloof General Friedrichs (Devid Striesow) provide strong breaks. Otherwise, there is no escape for any of the men caught up in the machinery of war. Brief moments of happiness, when a letter arrives from home or something tasty is put on the table, cannot hide how bleak and desolate the film is. Even though "Im Westen Nichts Neues" ultimately doesn't have much to say and hardly provides any character traits for its own characters despite a running time of two and a half hours: At the end, you are so depressed by the sight that you first lack the strength to leave the couch.

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