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All Quiet on the Western Front: Edward Berger’s poignant take on World War I

Inside the trenches. Outside the trenches. A juxtaposition of these two perspectives is what makes the film so special and worthy of critical acclaim.

So, this is an adaptation of the classic World War I novel by the same name that was later turned into a film in 1931, which also won an Oscar during the same time. I believe that the main purpose of the film was to connect with the audience so strongly that they lived the film, instead of simply watching it. It makes the viewer realize that war wipes out the innocence of young soldiers who probably stepped out from the schoolroom straight into the killing fields. The movie captures the horrors of war with complete accuracy. The movie has been rated R for ‘strong bloody war violence and grisly images’ but then that is the truth of war.

One of the things that greatly impressed me in the film was the use of contradictory images, juxtaposed to bring out the contrast between peace and war. In the opening scenes, the camera moves from a scene of nature and tranquility to an overhead shot, panning a battlefield strewn with frozen soldiers. This is the audience’s introduction to the western front and the war between the French and the Germans. We get to see the scenes of death, violence and go home ruing the futility of war. There is a scene where a soldier too frightened to leave his refuge, his trench, somehow gathers the tattered remains of his courage and makes his way to the top, only to be shot dead. After the battle scene, the camera moves to a view of the remaining soldiers, removing the uniforms of the dead before burying them. Yes, the reusing of uniforms of dead soldiers did take place in 1917 Germany as they were shorn of resources due to a long drawnout war.

 

We see the hero Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), for the first time as a part of a group of 200 schoolboys, excitement and anticipation glimmering in his eyes and showing in his face as he thinks about joining the war and fighting for his country, innocently taken in by the war-rhetoric. But soon he is faced with the grim reality of war and his idealism crumbles. However, he must carry on fighting until the end with no purpose but to satisfy the top bosses One scene in particular shows Paul receiving his uniform, unaware that the garments he was wearing had been scavenged from the dead. This is particularly gut-wrenching. One can actually go so far as to call this film an anti-war movie showing with brutal honesty, all that is wrong with a war. The anticipation on the young faces stands out in contrast with their shock and bewilderment when confronted with the reality of war.

The cast of the movie is impressive. Paul may not be an actor who can fit into any role, but his performance in the film, as a war-ravaged young soldier, is incredible. Albrecht Schuch, who plays the illiterate shoemaker Kat, provides solid support. Their relationship is brilliantly conveyed on the screen, and the way Kat treats Paul, like his own younger brother, is a treat to watch. We have some known faces such as Daniel Bruhl who plays the role of Matthias Erzberger, who tries his best to begin an armistice with the allied power, but for the most part we have individuals fitting perfectly into their given roles.

I loved the cinematography. It was a brilliant visual experience. If the aim of the cinematography was to present the brutality and the uselessness of war atrocities, it undoubtedly succeeded in its goal. There are scenes which may make you emotional like the one where Paul's desperate attempt to save a French soldier, after he kills him in the crater after a duel, is intense and cinematic. In another scene, Paul and Kat locate a wounded Tjaden (Edin Hasanovic) and are overjoyed to see him alive, but he kills himself with a fork in front of them.  The way the director Edward Berger bought this movie to life is just so impressive. This movie is Germany’s official entry to the Oscars and yes it has won the best international film award, best original score award, best cinematography award, and best production design award.

Edward Berger walks the audience through two storylines symbolic of two different perspectives on war. We watch people fighting a desperate meaningless war and we also watch people sitting comfortably in a room, discussing with conviction, the need to have a war. Inside the trenches. Outside the trenches. A juxtaposition of these two perspectives is what makes the film so special and worthy of critical acclaim.

 

I would rate the film 9 out of 10 based on its stunning storyline, awesome cinematography and of course great direction. Go for it!

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Dr. Ramandeep Mahal is currently working as an Assistant Professor of English at Guru Nanak Khalsa College Yamunanagar. She received her Doctorate degree from Maharishi Markandeshwar Mullana Ambala in 2018. Her research interests include Anglo-American Literature, Indian Writing in English, African Literature. She is the author of more than twenty research papers.

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