Netflix UK film review: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
James R | On 13, Nov 2022
Director: Edward Berger
Cast: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer
You’d be forgiven for not expecting anything new from a film called All Quiet on the Western Front – not only Hollywood has already given us two adaptations of the 1928 book before, but they date back to the 1930s and 1970s and are among some of the archetypal war movies in cinema history. This new adaptation, though, does come with a crucial difference: it’s the first German-language take on the book, written by German World War I veteran Erich Maria Remarque.
The film chronicles the trauma of the war from a German perspective and the harrowing details still ring with immediacy more than a century on from the conflict. Director Edward Berger sets out his stall to grab our attention from the very start, with a jaw-dropping sequence that follows a young soldier in the trenches, only to wind up following his bloodied tunic back to the laundry – a striking reminder that the machine of the war treats individual lives as disposable fillers.
The clothes ultmately pass on to another young soldier, Paul (Felix Kammerer), who signs up eagerly with his schoolmates, but discovers soon enough that the rousing rhetoric that encouraged them all to enlist was a lie. It’s a haunting moment and Berger repeatedly finds way to make you catch your breath, filling the screen with chilling, wintery forests and blood-splattered snow – and even turning a farmhouse escapade that might have promised some light relief into a poignant, personal exchange between Paul and older trooper, Kat (Albrecht Schuch).
The futility of all this loss and violence is made all the more tragic by the fact that we know that it is happening right at the end of the war, with peace on the verge on being agreed. Then, even as the ink on the treaty is drying, an ardent German general shockingly decides that his battalion will still mount one final attack so that they can go down in triumph. Throughout, Kammerer’s boyish, wide-eyed innocence never lets us forget the human cost on both sides of the war.