All Quiet on the Western Front is the latest International Feature submission for Germany. And it’s a stunner. It’s a bleak, relentless, brutal depiction of World War I. It follows four best friends who enlist into the German army full of patriotism having no idea what’s ahead of them. The film is an ode to the horrors of war.
In the spring of 1917, in Northern Germany, Paul, Ludwig, Franz and Albert have just signed papers to head to war. They’re all around 17-18 years of age and they’re super excited to represent their country. They have dreams of winning the war and marching into Paris victorious. They’re told that the war will be over soon and that most of them will survive and return home as war heroes. They have no idea that 40,000 soldiers are dying every few weeks.
As they head to Northern France, 25km from the western front, their march into a full on nightmare is about to begin.
Not a lot of films are made from the German perspective, and even less are made that make you feel completely sympathetic to the young German men. But these men aren’t monsters. There is no right or wrong side. They’re soldiers following orders from deranged leaders. The film perfectly captures the agony of survival, the fear of death and the humanizing of soldiers who do not fully comprehend what they’re doing. They all just want to go back home.
Felix Kammerer and the rest of the cast are magnificent. They’re friends. They’re soldiers. They’re fighting for their lives. Director Edward Berger has created a stunning technical achievement starting from its cinematography to its production design and that haunting score.
The film is terrifyingly realistic, emotionally exhausting, and incredibly difficult to watch. Every scene slowly builds more fear for these men and for us. It's an unnerving, engaging experience that never lets up and never lets you forget why we should never start a war. The only time that we can breathe throughout the entire film are the few tiny moments when it truly is quiet on the western front.