BREDA – Film enthusiast Frank Spreuwenberg highlights a film every week that is shown in one of Breda’s cinemas or can be viewed online. This week Im Westen nichts Neues can be seen on Netflix.
The movie In the West, nothing new (No news from the Western Front) is a war drama that hits like a shell and lingers for a long time. It is November 11, 1918. At 11 o’clock the armistice comes into effect, and after four years of fighting, the First World War finally ends. Erich Maria Remarque, himself a soldier in the trenches, wrote a book about his experiences and those of other soldiers. The book with the title In the West, nothing new Was published in 1929 and became a world hit. The author calls himself Paul Bäumer. It is an anti-war book that was banned and burned by the Nazis. The film by the German director Edward Berger (1970) is based on this book by Remarque and, like the book, shows the merciless dirt of a land war – in all its facets. And how a handful of indifferent men send millions of people to their deaths. The central theme of the book and the film is the utter senselessness of war. Despite millions of dead, neither side had made any significant territorial gains after four years of fighting. Things will not be much different in Ukraine now.
Paul (Felix Kammerer) and his schoolmates have volunteered to join the German army to save the honor of the empire. But despite all the practical lessons from the veteran Katz (Albrecht Schuch), who takes Paul and his comrades under his wing in the trenches, they have little chance of survival at the front. All color disappears as soon as they enter the trenches. The real front is gray and consists of soldiers half-starving and cutting themselves with thirst. And they must survive under machine-gun fire in the trenches among mutilated and half-charred bodies or severed body parts floating in the bloody mud.
It is the third time that the book has been made into a film, but it is the first time that it is a German production. And it goes way beyond the pain threshold. Where the book still takes trips to feasts or cheerful breaks from the service, director Edward Berger’s focus is entirely on life at the front. The stress and panic among the German soldiers, even boys, during attacks on the trenches by the French army or during hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield is palpable to the bone. Thinking and feeling are completely turned off, human machines are at work here.
Like the book, the director Edward Berger wants to penetrate us with the film and make it clear: war is the total darkness of human existence, all civilization is torn away here. He has added another tale to the story, that of the German diplomat Erzberger (Daniel Brühl), who negotiates a truce with the French General Foch in a train car, but fails to get a foothold.
To put the viewer in the right mood, Volker Bertelmann, also known by the stage name Hauschka, has composed the most dramatic sound I have heard in years. After two hours you hardly dare to get up from the sofa. Because of what you see, hear and feel, you experience this war drama not only with your stomach, but with your whole body. I know this might not be an invitation to watch anyway. But it is a film that had to be made. Right now! Because the state of the art in a ground war may no longer be the same as in World War I, the filth and senselessness of war violence have remained the same. Ukraine today is proof of that. And what hasn’t changed either: it’s just a few indifferent men turning the knobs of the war machine, men for whom human life is just a number. Cinematic art cannot portray this reality confrontingly enough, and that is exactly what it is In the West, nothing new do.
What you need to know about the movie
– In 1930, just one year after its publication, the book was made into a Hollywood film with the title “All quiet on the Western Front”. This American production by director Lewis Milestone won two Oscars (Best Film and Best Director). The screening of the film was banned by the Nazis. According to the American Film Institute, this film was still in 1997 one of the hundred most important American films of all time.
– The second film adaptation was an English production from 1979 by director Delbert Mann.
– The German director Berger said, referring to the previous film adaptations: “Unlike the American or British production, a German war film should not have a sense of glory.”
– Im Westen nichts Neues is the German Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film 2023. In the German media, the film has often been received as “particularly worthy“.