“All Quiet on the Western Front”: Toronto Review | Comments
Real. Edward Berger. Germany. 2022. 143 minutes
Conflicts never seem to end, and the role of war films has always been to deal – repeatedly – with the human desire to annihilate “the enemy”. (War films were among the first ever made, including short documentary clips of the Spanish-American War in 1898.) German veteran Erich Maria Remarque, shocked by the so-called “war to end all wars “, wrote ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ in 1928, and it was filmed, winning three Oscars, two years later. Now Edward Berger returns to the German source material, adding some twists, in a heartbreaking and visceral adaptation of a nearly century-old work, written when ruined veterans could still hear the sound of gunfire in their dreams.
Berger brings back the message of every war movie in the simplest, most direct way
Supported and distributed by Netflix, this is the original war epic. There is no twist; it’s not billed as a one-shot chase movie like Sam Mendes’ 1917a romance Merry Christmas or the cruel story of the life of a Battle horse. The teenagers go to war; they die, horribly, and they are repeatedly betrayed by their ruling classes. Germany’s entry into the international Oscars category is a tough and accomplished watch. With us, it will be watched with interest as a long-awaited return to its legacy. His sacrifice of the family elements of the novel in favor of a cross-section from the front to the peace negotiations works well to give tension to a feature film. A tough test of endurance on home screens, where it hits the streamer from October 28, it’s a rewarding, if deeply moving and at times overwhelming, theatrical experience.
Edward Berger (TV series Patrick Melrosethe little-watched title of the Berlinale All my Love) dramatically ups the ante for this widescreen spectacle of death and destruction. Its overriding purpose is to illustrate the bloody repetitiveness of war – the back-and-forth nature of this years-long futile struggle for mere yards of land. Before the credits, a crane shot lowers over footage of the dead as a boy soldier named Heinrich runs over and is immediately killed. His clothes are stripped from his body in a bloody mass of corpses, bagged, washed, altered, and sent back to the next recruit who will – literally – fill his boots. A double bass is an anachronistic touch but raises the fear of what is to come for the viewer. A new journey has begun.
The boy in the redone uniform is the central character of the film Paul Baumer (the wide-eyed debutant Felix Kammerer), born in 1899 and on the front lines in the third year of the war. He and his classmates are full of fervor – ready to march on Paris! – but they will never advance more than a few meters before plunging back into their rat-infested trenches. One by one they die, as a starving Paul manages to survive for 14 months and forms a bond with the older soldier Katczinsky, or Kat (Albrecht Schuch).
Kat has more experience than Paul and comes from a different social class – he can’t read – but they form a desperate bond; dreaming of home, even though they now know that victory is impossible. Brief moments on a farm in the Champagne region are immediately corrected when Paul and Kat find a whole convoy of new recruits gassed to death. Germany will soon be empty, they sigh.
Berger spares the viewer nothing as Paul’s innocent blue eyes gradually turn into a battle-hardened gaze. Men die brutally before they have had a chance to live, sometimes by their own hands. He spends a night in a dirty trench, watching a man he repeatedly stabbed gurgle and die.
What stops Everyone is silent to become too sad, too cruel, to watch is the character cross-section of Daniel Bruhl, the liberal politician Erzberger, as he tries to claim peace against the wishes of a vain army, personified by General Friedrich (Devid Striesow) who insists on repeatedly sending his troops to certain death. Defeat, when it comes, will be on French terms and, as Erzbeger has 72 hours to sign, Friedrich fires Paul in an unsuccessful outing.
The film touches on the terms of the Armistice and the tensions it will create in the future, while we hope against all odds for a life for Paul that he seems to have abandoned. Berger is keen to show the class differences between the ruling elite and the children they sent to die, which was interchangeable between camps and, for that matter, between wars.
Filmed in the Czech Republic, Everyone is silent is gruelingly realistic: impressive battle sequences follow one another with the sounds of conflict erupting in a cinematic bombardment. With the brutal ongoing struggle in Ukraine for territory, Berger brings back the message of every war movie in the simplest and most direct way – the cost in lives, yes, but also, our collective humanity.
Production Company: Amusement Park Film
Worldwide Distribution: Netflix
Producers: Malte Grunert, Daniel Dreifuss, Edward Berger
Screenplay: Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, Ian Stokell, based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque
Photography: James Friend
Production Design: Christian M. Goldbeck
Editing: Sven Budelmann
Music: Volker Bertelmann
Main cast: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Moritz Klaus, Thibault de Montalembert, Daniel Brühl, Devid Striesow