It came as no surprise when the German anti-war drama All Quiet on the Western Front swept the BAFTA Awards 2023, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Film, defeating the other popular nominees Elvis(a terrible biopic which does a huge disservice to Presley) and The Banshees Of Insherin(a brilliant study of ennui and nostalgia).
Edward Berger’s All Quiet On The Western Front is that rarity that has the potential to change the way we look at war and territorial aggression specially now when Ukraine fights for its space.
There is no need to hold an Oscars ceremony this year. All the main awards, excluding best Actress(boys go to war, not girls) should go to Edward Berger’s German instant-classic All Quiet on the Western Front ( Im Westen nichts Neues in German) .Based on the 1929 novel of by Erich Maria Remarque it takes us right to into the trenches with the soldiers during World War 1 , giving us no comfort of distance.No solace of detachment.
Sometimes we feel so close to the savagery that it becomes hard to breathe.In 2017 Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk had hurled us into trenches. This one goes many steps ahead. The naïve German soldier Paul Baumer(Felix Kammerer)’s journey across the death valley from one battlefield to another, flings us so close to Paul we can smell his fear of death, hunger , loneliness and that creeping sense of this-couldn’t-be-happening-to-me unreality.
There are some deeply disturbing visuals in All Quiet On The Western Front. If you are averse to blood and gore, this film may upset you deeply. But especially now, when Ukraine is ferociously fighting the Russian bullies for its sovereignty , the relevance of this film cannot be overstated.
While its anti-war message,the sheer futility of young boys barely out of school, fighting for…what?They’ve no idea….while the message is the core, the inhumanity of hurling mere boys to their death, is what we come away with from in this unquestionable masterpiece, streaming on Netflix.
This is barbarism of the most brutal and selfserving variety.Why are these boys sent to their brutal death knowing that the battle they were fighting served no purpose except to allow politicians to send billions on weaponry which are best left to rust in peace.
Director Edward Berges spares us none of the details, legs and arms are routinely blown off. But that is not the prime focus here. The physical butchery is only part of the suffering that soldiers suffered as World War 1 takes them down the path of annihilation. And who gives a damn about the thousands who perish in battle? Certainly not the senior generals who sit in plush luxury, gorging on gourmet while thousands of foot soldiers starve and die(not of starvation but far more brutal death).
I am not too sure the portrayal of the army generals is fair or even authentic.I would rather focus on the struggle to survive that goes on each second in the trenches.The most unforgettable of these moments is when Paul is trapped in the trench with an enemy soldier. He knives and almost kills the enemy for self defence and then watching the soldier splutter and shiver .Paul is filled with a profound remorse. I could hear his pain. In my second-most favourite moment of battle violence, a seriously wounded soldier takes the fork from his soup tray and stabs himself in the neck repeatedly.
All Quiet On The Waterfront is arguably the most humane and brutal indictment on the futility of way. It is strongly recommended for those who seriously think it is brave to give up your life on battlefront. A peerless achievement, it makes all the great films about love, friendship, sexuality and marriage that came to us in 2022 look so trivial.
A special mention of James Friend’s epic cinematography : the camera lens stands back to see the savagery on the battlefield and simultaneously zooms in on the indescribable suffering of the individual soldiers. How do they do it?
Oh yes, a ladies’ scarf and a stolen rooster play vital parts in this film. These are the moments where we smile even as the world goes completely insane.