Netflix takes us to the trenches in this epic anti-war film.
All Quiet on the Western Front follows 17-year-old German soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), who lies about his age along with his friends so that he can fight in World War I and attain the fame and glory promised by propaganda. Sure of victory, the naive new recruits are unaware that countless soldiers have already died before them and that they will be brutally killed or barely escape with their lives.
This epic anti-war film directed by Edward Berger is based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name, published in 1929 and adapted into two movies already, one of which won an Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director for Lewis Milestone in 1930. This is the first time the German novel has been adapted by a German filmmaker keenly aware of the guilt and shame Germans associate with war. Berger’s stark and haunting All Quiet on the Western Front will be Germany’s official entry for the 2023 Oscars Best International Feature Film category. With that in mind, here's everything you need to know about the anti-war epic.
All Quiet on the Western Front begins streaming on Netflix on October 28, 2022. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, was released in select theaters in Germany on September 29 and will open in US cinemas in October. If you're planning to watch it in theaters, the movie will premiere at the Paris Theater in New York on October 7, and a week later, it will expand to select theatres on October 14.
Teenager Paul Bäumer (Kammerer) and fellow fresh-faced recruits are euphoric as they journey to the front lines, while a quote from the German novel says: “This is neither an accusation, nor a confession, and least of all an adventure. For death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it.” Arriving at the trenches, what greets Bäumer is not heroism and glory but mud, relentless gunfire and bombings, violence, and death. “We’ll stick together, Paul,” a bespectacled soldier promises a terrified Bäumer, a promise not likely kept as Bäumer discovers a shattered pair of eyeglasses in the mud. “I’m afraid of what’s to come,” says Bäumer, now a hollowed-out and shell-shocked soldier who has seen too much violence and the true face of war. The trailer has very few lines of dialogue, but the harrowing images are poignant and universally understood: war is not patriotic theater but pure hell.
All Quiet On The Western Front boasts a large cast of some of Germany’s leading actors. Daniel Brühl plays real-life anti-war writer and diplomat Matthias Erzberger. US viewers will recognize Brühl from his countless film and series roles, with notable appearances in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, The Alienist, and The King’s Man. He also appeared in The Bourne Ultimatum, Inglourious Basterds, and Captain America: Civil War.
Austrian newcomer Felix Kammerer turns in a star-making performance as the young Paul Bäumer, who goes from unbridled euphoria to abject terror after witnessing the brutal deaths of his friends and being assigned the task of collecting their dog tags. Bäumer becomes a close friend of Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky, played by Albrecht Schuch, an illiterate cobbler whose wife’s letters are read to him by Bäumer. The cast also includes Moritz Klaus, Aaron Hilmer, Edin Hasanović, Adrian Grünewald, Devid Striesow, Andreas Döhler, Sebastian Hülk, Alexander Schuster, Luc Feit, Michael Wittenborn, Michael Stange, André Marcon, Tobias Langhoff, and Anton von Lucke.
Director Edward Berger (Patrick Melrose, Jack) co-wrote the screenplay along with Ian Stokell and Lesley Paterson. The film was produced for Netflix by Malte Grunert (Land of Mine, A Most Wanted Man) and his company Amusement Park Film, Daniel Dreifuss (Sergio, Guernica), and Edward Berger. James Friend, who has already worked with Edward Berger on Patrick Melrose, provides the stunning cinematography. Here's what Berger told Collider's Steve Weintraub in an interview about adapting the novel from the German perspective:
"We have a very different cultural heritage. Germany obviously started two wars in the last century and brought a lot of terror and horror to the world and we felt that that perspective is an important one to tell. Because obviously if you're born with that, then the movie will feel very differently from an American movie or a British movie where soldiers went to war, won it, were celebrated victoriously and brought home a different kind of feeling. And we didn't grow up with that feeling, so we wanted to share that emotion with an international audience"
The official synopsis reads as follows:
All Quiet on the Western Front tells the gripping story of a young German soldier on the Western Front of World War I. Paul and his comrades experience first-hand how the initial euphoria of war turns into desperation and fear as they fight for their lives, and each other, in the trenches. The film from director Edward Berger is based on the world renowned bestseller of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque.
A massive international bestseller in 1929, Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front was banned and burned in Nazi Germany. As chronicled by Smithsonian Magazine, “the novel’s utter lack of pro-German propaganda and honest, downbeat look at war made the book a Nazi target.”
Concerned about his safety, author Remarque sailed to America in 1939 where he would be unaware of his family’s suffering in Germany. His brother-in-law became a prisoner of war and the even grimmer fate of his youngest sister Elfriede would haunt him for life. Elfriede was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and was beheaded by guillotine, the judge stating: "We have sentenced you to death because we cannot apprehend your brother. You must suffer for your brother.”
The 1930 Hollywood movie based on Remarque’s novel did not escape Nazi fury either. When German moviegoers flocked to Berlin’s Mozart Hall to see the film, they were reportedly greeted by a mob assembled by propagandist Joseph Goebbels that shouted anti-Semitic slurs as they tossed stink bombs from the balcony, threw sneezing powder in the air, and released white mice into the theater.
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