Why don’t you ever tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, the same end, and the same agony?Erich Maria Remarque
Perhaps Erich Maria Remarque would have wished he had never had the experiences that inspired his transcendental novel. All Quiet on the Western Front marked a turning point in the world of literature and its adaptation for the cinema in 1930 by Lewis Milestone paved the way for anti-war films. Director Delbert Mann also adapted Remarque’s play into a television movie in 1972. Now it’s Edward Berger’s turn, almost a hundred years after the first adaptation hit the big screen.
In defense of the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front, it must be said that the years have done it justice. The Oscar for Best Picture is well deserved, and time has not affected its integrity. The speech does not lose its validity and even in the technical aspects the film is very well preserved. Berger’s new adaptation grows in the staging and is more emphatic with its repudiation of war and the horrors that this discharge on humanity. Its lacerating poetry hits us with a brutal force, it is impossible not to be amazed by how well each sequence has been achieved, but at the same time to grieve over the fate that has befallen the protagonists and with the fact of knowing that more than fiction this is the harsh reality of the world.
From the classrooms to the trenches
He fell in October 1918, a day when it was very calm and even on the entire front, that the army report was limited to the following single sentence: Nothing new on the Western Front.Erich Maria Remarque
The script in which Lesley Paterson, Ian Stokell, and the director himself collaborate, emphasizes portraying how the so-called “iron youth” are robbed of their lives when they are dragged from the classroom to the trenches to transform them into beasts. Through the eyes of Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), we see how these classmates change their impression of war when they experience the reality of the battlefield. James Friend oversees cinematography, and it is his first work for cinema. From his lens, those epic sequences are composed that represent a real challenge at the level of concept and execution. With Friend’s lens, we absorb every close-up of Paul’s face or that of Kat (Albrecht Schuch) who speaks to us with their looks and gestures to destroy our souls.
Also, on the battlefields the camera grows in the company of the music of Volker Bertelmann (Ammonite, Lion) the opening sequence reminds us of what Spielberg and his team achieved in the opening of Saving Private Ryan (1998). The opening minutes of All Quiet on the Western Front have the same momentum and are just as heartbreaking. In the same way, the sequences in the trenches reach the same levels of perfection as other films that recount moments of the same war conflict, such as 1917 (2019) by Sam Mendes and Paths of Glory (1957) by Stanley Kubrick.
All Quiet on the Western Front is a wonderfully executed film, impeccably acted and with a narrative force that is enough to sustain its 2 hours and 28 minutes duration. Undoubtedly, this film finds a place among the great films of the war genre of all time.