ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
17-year-old Paul and his young comrades enthusiastically join the Western Front in 1918 under the guise that they will return to a hero’s welcome. The reality they are about to enter is far from ticker tape parades and medals. It is the unforgiving and bloody trench warfare of WWI. German director Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front is a breathtaking retelling of the classic 1928 novel by Erich Maria Remarque.
The unfiltered brutality of war, shocking imagery, nothing is sugarcoated. Felix Kammerer stars as our young lead Paul. The film follows his journey from enlisting by lying about his age to the day the war officially ended. Fear is the dominant feeling that runs through the narrative. The class and rank of soldiers is a striking contrast, highlighted by scenes of prideful general sitting safe in high mansions while young men and boys get slaughtered. The film opens with some of the bluntest scenes of warfare that left my jaw on the floor.
In its nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime, the film has little dialogue. Not a wasted word in the trenches with shouted orders, a kind word of encouragement shared for survival, and the cast genuinely connects on a personal level. Of course, once you become attached to anyone, they are just as quickly ripped away. Kammerer is the star of this film, no doubt about that. His ability to fully embrace the chaos grabs you by the throat. His eyes speak volumes.
James Friend‘s exquisite cinematography encompasses stunning framing, detailed close-ups, and natural lighting. The choice to do hand-held places the audience on the ground with the cast. It’s dizzying at times, but that’s the point. In the still moments, I found myself saying out loud, “Wow, this is beautiful.” The score is its own entity. Jarring, often electronic-sounding horn melodies and sharp state drum rhythms usher impending menace. It will be a travesty if it doesn’t get noticed during awards season.
All Quiet On The Western Front may be the most extensive war epic ever filmed. The fight choreography made my palms sweat. I don’t care how hard you think you are. This story will break you. The cyclical nature of war will crush your soul. There is a reason All Quiet On The Western Front is Germany’s Oscar entry. It’s essential viewing for any history buff or cinema lover and a stark warning to men in power.