All Quiet on The Western Front
Poster of All Quiet on The Western Front

All in the valley of Death; Rode the six hundred”

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
— Alfred Lord Tennyson

The film is the third notable adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s Anti-World War I novel of the same name. It is the first German-language adaptation of the book and is directed by Edward Berger. The film is Germany’s official submission to the Oscars 2023 in the best foreign language film category and I am really hoping that it is selected and ends up winning the honor because this is the best anti-war film that I have seen in years. 

Closely following the book and other adaptations, the story revolves around a group of friends from college during World War I who are inspired by heroic and lofty dreams of fighting for their fatherland, Germany but soon experience and comprehend the fearsome face of war after joining the army and experiencing death and carnage up close and personal in Germany’s western front against France. As the story toggles between the exploits and experiences of these young men as they mature as human beings under the fire of war, we also see the German political apparatus trying to barter peace with France which proves to be elusive and often brings with it substantial doses of insults.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is exactly what a remake should be. The film follows the same story that the book and atleast two films before it followed. However, it takes such a different approach to storytelling and execution that it becomes an entirely different film. While I loved the 1930 and 1979 film adaptations of the story, I have to agree that this film was by far the most heart-wrenching and poignant of the three primarily because of how serious and nerve-wracking the screenplay was. Even the situational comedy that brews between the characters in this film feels oddly somber as the fear of death and a painful end to their young lives always looms on the horizon. 
The director keeps the atmosphere so ripe with tension and a feeling of something evil lurking in the air that it becomes impossible to be comfortable or enjoy seeing the men having fun or cracking a joke once in a while. This was not the case with the first two film adaptations. There were moments there that felt uncharacteristically funny, loud, and caricature-ish. They were stark departures from how the rest of the film unfolded and this sparingly took me out of the experience. 

The way “All Quiet on the Western Front” begins this time is starkly different. We land smack in the middle of the war. We then see the journey of a uniform of a fallen soldier from the battlefield all the way back to a new recruit and from here on the story starts following the journey of the young men. There are no training montages. The character of Himmelstoss is completely done away with even though he was an important character in the book and the two previous films. All that is not required here as the director masterfully conveys the socio-economic beats that the character of Himmelstoss was used to convey through dialogues between the characters. If that was not enough, the beguiling battle sequences and the impact of every consecutive brush of the young men with death are used to keep the story focused on the tragedy of the men involved in the conflict more than anything else.  

Felix Kammerer as Paul Bäumer, the primary protagonist of the film was unforgettable. He makes the character his own because of how effective he is in conveying the emotions and the tragedy that the character is plagued with throughout the film. There is a scene in the film where Bäumer barely escapes death by stabbing a French soldier multiple times but then ends up trying to save the man as he gradually suffocates to death. This scene is there in the other films too but here the impact was of a different level. I can just close my eyes and hear the French soldier coughing out blood and Felix Kammerer shouting at him to shut up. Kammerer’s mannerisms in the final battle sequence after he has just lost his best friend and confidant will convey everything that one needs to know about his mental state at the end of it all.

Albrecht Schuch as Stanislaus Katczinsky AKA Kat is the next most noticeable in the film and he too is exceptional in his rendering of the character. The dialogues between the characters are so wonderfully envisioned, executed, and performed that it becomes difficult to take one’s eyes off the screen when the men are involved in discussions. 

The cinematography by James friend is one of the best that I have seen this year. The advancements in technology have definitely helped push the boundary of visual presentation of such an old war to a level of realism and aesthetics that was not possible for the earlier films to pull off. The difference is not only visible in the sequences that document the trench warfare but in the sweeping arial shots and how camera movements and placements are used to combine multiple aspects of the story in singular sequences. Friend also captures the vistas and the outback with utmost beauty and flamboyance. If that was not enough, he uses close-ups wonderfully well to give audiences a look into the psyche of the characters. This works particularly well in sequences where little is said between the characters, and it is their expressions and mannerisms that tell the story.

The battle sequences are consistently brilliant. The gore is not just on your face but is presented in a manner that will make you feel sick from within. A tank crushing a soldier under its wheel who was a living breathing human being a couple of sequences before. A soldier who is gravely injured kills himself with cutlery to avoid spending the rest of his life destitute. A soldier coughs blood for minutes before breathing his last. Innumerable sequences like these will leave indelible marks on the viewer’s psyche. The production design of the film also contributes heavily to making a large portion of it that much more effective and impactful. 

Unfortunately, a film like this, which needed the big screen treatment, is only available on Netflix. I will soon be able to watch it on 200 inches plus screen at my brother’s place when I visit Shillong next week, but that may not be the case for most others. I just hope that they decide to release it in theater here in India.

Please note that the views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not in any way or form reflect EastMojo’s position.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

Also Read | Monjul Baruah’s Anur: A timeless tale of old age, love and loneliness 

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