All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★★½

In grade nine my English teacher assigned All Quiet on the Western Front as required reading (ambitious, I know). Regrettably, the novel’s details didn’t stick with me all these years later. But revisiting the story through Edward Berger’s bleak Netflix adaptation took me right back to the desolate no man’s land of emotions I experienced reading it.

All Quiet on the Western Front has a lot working for it, most notably the visuals. James Friend’s cinematography is hands down one of the best of the year. I had to rack my brain, but I think I can unequivocally say that the horrors of war have never been captured more artfully. As we’re taken through the seasons of war the aesthetic just gets better and better. I’m hard-pressed to find one shot where the best possible angle, movement, framing, or blocking wasn’t used. The way the camera navigates some of the action and set design is just masterful.

Speaking of the set design, it’s another one of the film’s strengths. The familiar muck of the trench is very present. But even other settings, like the infirmaries and barracks, are painstakingly crafted. The costumes and makeup are also incredible; the attention paid to the perpetual grime and filth on the soldiers’ faces alone is remarkable.

The performances are pretty good. Felix Kammerer, as Paul Bäumer, is the obvious standout. The film rests on his clean-cut shoulders. Paul’s constant struggle to simply catch his breath is worn on his face the entire time. Through Paul’s ordeal, we glean the thematic messages of the story, and I think Kammerer, for an actor of his experience, really makes that process easy. His cast mates—particularly his little band of brothers—also articulate the range of emotions that war brings about with real care and authenticity. 

Throughout the whole film, the crippling worry and panic of the soldiers is palpable. The wanton slaughter is brutal and unrelenting. There’s one scene in particular—where a tank turns a man into mud—that will stick with me for a long time. And the juxtaposition between the front and the war room is so well done, cutting back and forth between the two “worlds” at perfect times. Of note is the scene where Daniel Brühl’s character signs the armistice, which, aside from really driving home the juxtaposition, is a short yet monumental moment that I thought was executed brilliantly.

The score left a bit to be desired. When it went subtle I found it to be at its best. When the blaring sounds and the strange interjections of percussion reared their heads at the beginning (and later throughout) I was a little put-off, because I felt they just didn’t jive with the story, the time, or the tone.

It’s a very good effort, that just might end up in my yearly top ten list. It's certainly my frontrunner for Foreign Film at this point.

2022 Ranked

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