All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) - 7/10
I’m not a war film buff, but it strikes me, even if a bit generally that war films have changed. We’ve moved past the yahoo ‘here comes America to save the day’ drivel and we’re well past the romanticised tally ho era of early films without any blood in them. This is the era of putting the viewer on the front line. Here quite literally. All Quiet on the Western Front is set during World War 1. What’s perhaps most unusual is we’re on the German side. The bad guys. It is a German production. It is bloody. It is terrifying. The body count in the opening scenes is ferocious. Dead bodies on a dead landscape. Smoke, bullets, screaming. It’s a visceral introduction. We meet Paul (Felix Kammerer), a young man fed the lies of the honour of war. Hyped up with his friends by grand speeches from those staying at home, “For the Kaiser, God and Fatherland” and dressed by army clerics handing over uniforms recently removed and cleaned from the canon fodder that’s gone before them. There’s no training. Here’s a uniform. Here’s a rifle. Off we go marching to the front as a brutalist distorted horn score blares out an ominous tone. The rain soon pours, the mud thickens. The sky black and their enthusiasm vanishing as we weave through the trenches and the penny drops. Paul is going to struggle. Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch) spots this instantly. Sees the fear in Paul… and his friends. There are moments of quiet as the title suggests, but these are mere respites for the scenes of utter panic and carnage. The quiet isn’t exactly a picnic though, the bombs stop falling, only allowing Paul time to collect tags from the dead, including friends laying face down in the mud. It doesn’t have the immersion of 1917. It’s not quite as focused. Trying to tell a broader story and it dilutes the horror a little as we jump forward in the campaign. Paul, now somewhat hardened, resigned that this creeping monotony of survival is his life, as long as he’s still breathing. They’re in occupied France. Not moving forward, not moving at all really. Trapped with their reality and harrowed thoughts. Losing their minds, before being sent back to the front to go another round. Whilst this goes on, the pen pushers squabble over negotiation or fighting. Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) wants to negotiate peace. He’s just ill equipped. Like everyone really. I’d assume modern warfare wasn’t as hand to hand, maybe incorrectly, but this is just barbaric and some scenes are quite indescribable. Kammerer is fantastic. He’s a lot to convey along a tragic journey. The production is fantastic too, as devastating as it looks, it’s incredible. “God watches on as we slaughter each other. I’m a pair of boots and a rifle”. It doesn’t paint the Germans in a good light. War is dehumanising. We do well to remember that. Paul, merely a solider, a savage robot, left gazing at the sky wondering, realising. No one is right in war. No one is innocent.