We haven’t had a great anti-war film in years—this WWI piece comes just as timely in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and is as technically accomplished and emotionally involving as some of the finest entries of the genre.
Dir. Edward Berger
2022 | Germany | Drama/War | 147 min | 2.39:1 | German & French
M18 (passed clean) for strong bloody war violence and grisly images
Cast: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer
Plot: Paul Baumer and his friends Albert and Muller, egged on by romantic dreams of heroism, voluntarily enlist in the German army. Full of excitement and patriotic fervour, the boys enthusiastically march into a war they believe in. But once on the Western Front, they discover the soul-destroying horror of World War I.
Awards: Won 4 Oscars – Best International Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Original Score. Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects
Subject Matter: Moderate – WWI; Horrors of War; Trauma & Sacrifice
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
WWI hasn’t had a lot of coverage in terms of screen entertainment as compared to, say, WWII or the Vietnam War, but there is always the seminal text by German war veteran Erich Maria Remarque that All Quiet on the Western Front falls back on.
Not meant to be a remake of the 1930 classic by Lewis Milestone, this new German interpretation, with modern tools of cinematography and sound, seeks to immerse us into the trench warfare that marked the first major significant world event of the 20th century, one which more than 17 million people lost their lives.
Showing the horrors of battle from the point-of-view of a newly-minted soldier named Paul (Felix Kammerer in a stunning acting debut), director Edward Berger doesn’t compromise on the violence and brutality.
More importantly, there is a pacifist message that filters through the clouds of darkness—why fight senselessly for some authority in the ivory tower? But sometimes there isn’t any choice; you either kill or be killed.
“All that’s left separating us from an armistice is false pride.”
The film is backed by an effective contemporary-sounding ambient score by Volker Bertelmann (who channels a bit of the late Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson’s musical style here) that is sometimes punctuated by startling hits of the snare drum, as well as a foreboding three-note bass leitmotif alluding to the unnecessary but inevitable human sacrifice that is to come.
All Quiet on the Western Front has surged upwards in the awards momentum and will likely earn Netflix its first Oscar win in Best International Feature.
Much has to do with how timely it is as an anti-war film in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though on its own, the film is as technically accomplished and emotionally involving as some of the finest entries of the genre.
It’s so much better than Sam Mendes’ 1917 (2019), which may be impressive as a technical exercise, but rather underwhelming and shallow as a war film.