When I think of the most harrowing depictions of war in cinema, there’s only one answer…the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Never did I imagine a movie would capture this anxiety and dread in totality until I saw 2022’s German submission for the Academy Awards, Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front).
All Quiet on the Western Front is not a remake. German director and writer Edward Berger and co-writers Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell didn’t look at the original 1930 film for inspiration, but decided to stay true to the source material.
The story follows a young seventeen-year-old German soldier’s terrifying experiences and distress on the western front during WWI.
Berger’s reimagining of the classic anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front is horrifying in every detail. The World War I epic earned rave reviews upon its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is now available on Netflix.
It’s important to rewind back in time to understand the historical and cultural significance of the original movie before diving into this version of retelling history. Cinema was becoming more popular in the 1930s, but war films did not really focus on recent events. Wartime newsreels became popular in WWII, and at that point Hollywood took an interest in capturing the conflict on film.
Movies like Casablanca were able to incorporate the events of WWII as a backdrop, and The Best Years of Our Lives responded to the end of the war. WWII cinema exploded in theaters at that time, but capturing WWI on screen was a true rarity.
“Steven Spielberg credited 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front as a major inspiration on Saving Private Ryan. The film’s tracking shots within the trenches were similar to the ones Stanley Kubrick would use in Paths of Glory, a similar anti-war epic that challenges the notion of patriotism.” via Viral News
So why try to reimagine a 92-year-old Oscar-winning movie?
“When it comes to both world wars, as a German there is nothing to be proud of in that part of history. There’s only guilt, terror, horror and a deep sense of responsibility to the past,” says Berger, 52. “That’s in me. That’s in my kids.” via USA Today
Berger notably departs from the book and the 1930 film to include many scenes showing German politicians deciding to surrender while their military counterparts fume. The director is hopeful yet realistic about whether his central message will be received. But Berger was able to bring a new level of both lyricism and terror to his version that could only be delivered by modern technology.
“My hope is that especially younger viewers are drawn into the narrative of this absurd and brutal part of our history, and can start thinking about violence, war and humankind in different ways, helping them reimagine a world in which the horrors of war could become a bitter relic of the past,” he says.