It is now about a quarter of a century since the German language teacher, Dr. N found someone with a Stephen King book under the school desk, even though Nothing New in the West was in the curriculum. But his anger was rather mild, for everyone had no book under the seat at all, except for the Tamagotchis. Electric eggs were also the reason why Dr. n. This generation of students (not entirely wrong) has finally given up. “Read Erich-Maria Remarque,” he said with a sigh, “you will need it someday!”
The man was right, of course. Remarque’s 1929 novel tells of the harrowing experiences of a young German soldier in the trenches of World War I, who represents an entire “lost generation.” And in a year when another war broke out in Europe, the book was unfortunately of particular interest. There is also a new edition. Surprisingly, after the American film version of the 1930’s and the British-American television production from the 1970s, this was the first German film to be adapted for this German material. The new version is produced by the Netflix streaming service. The theatrical release is September 29, before the movie premieres on Netflix from October 28.
Although it has not yet received a wide public and media response, “Nothing New in the West” has already been selected by a jury on behalf of German Films, the foreign representation of the German film, as the German entry for the Academy Award in the category “Best International Film”. “. Now that the work celebrated its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on Monday, curiosity is naturally high: Is early praise warranted and is the film a worthy choice in the German Academy Award application?
Directed by Edward Berger. Among other things, the 52-year-old presented the movie “Jack”, some “Tatorte” and episodes of the series “Deutschland 83”. He has also worked internationally, including with Benedict Cumberbatch and Ralph Fiennes. His version of “Nothing New in the West” was written in German. Even if Netflix didn’t want to provide any budget information when asked, it must have been very generous by German standards. Costume dramas are pricey, especially war movies, and the movie feels appropriately luxurious.
Remarque and Netflix are very close when it comes to entertainment
There are far fewer films about World War I than there are about World War II. However, the first has its classics, and above all Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths to Glory” (1957), which set the eternal standard of cinema in the trenches: hardly any director was able to match the battle of the mud labyrinth. More recently, for example, Sam Mendes in 1917 attempted an aesthetic trick of giving the entire film the appearance of being shot in one take.
Fortunately, Berger doesn’t bother with such technical tricks. His battle scenes are brutal and powerful and were filmed without aesthetic manipulation. Above all, the eternal gray of winter France, the cold creeping down the bodies of soldiers in their wet uniforms, and the frost covering men like the enemy’s second army are almost physically palpable in the images in this film. Although Remarque wrote a story in the first person, he often refers to “we” in the text. This collective experience is also conveyed by the film’s breathtaking glacier visuals.
And in terms of content? Berger and the English-language screenwriting duo Remarque, which oscillates in style between reportage and fiction (and only later in the 1950s, was given the suffix “novel” by the publisher), in some places expanded dramatically. While the original film moves almost exclusively into the world of young soldier Paul and his comrades, who first joyfully went to war “for the Emperor, God and the Fatherland” and then endured the inferno of trench warfare on the Western Front, the filmmakers are still moving it to another level. Parallel to the suffering of the young men, littered with mud, blood, bone and brain fragments, they recount the difficult struggles MP Erzberger (Daniel Brühl, who also co-produced the film) faced in negotiating an armistice with the French. .
The book ended in October 1918 – the film continued until the end of the war in November
At the famous end of the book, the hero Paul died shortly before the end of the war “on a day so quiet along the entire front that the report of the army was limited to the sentence that there was nothing new to report. West.” The filmmakers turn this depiction of a completely meaningless death in the face of inevitable defeat into a Hollywood standoff.
Paul, played by newcomer Felix Kamerer, did not die with them in October 1918, and the film continues until November 11, 1918 at the eleventh hour – the time of the Armistice. A classic theatrical trick: the viewer knows early on and until the moment the horror ends. Thus he is even more excited to see if the protagonist can hold out until then, while his comrades fall one by one.
Is this still in keeping with the spirit of Remarque’s work, who owes his influence above all to this quiet and frightening secondary ending at the end of a meaningless and tumultuous war? At first glance, one is naturally inclined to refuse. Here, art is sacrificed again to the usual Netflix buzz, because viewers are so used to the hype around it and the clock ticking all the time.
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On the other hand: Remarque itself was anything but alien to the stylistic tools typical of entertainment drama. Of course, his novel is a stark counterpart to Ernst Ginger’s “In Stahlgewittern”. But even he, a disillusioned veteran, created moments in his book that may have arisen more from his imagination than from real experience.
For example, there is a scene in the novel where Paul and his friends meet three French siren-like women and swim across the river to sleep with them. Not that this was not possible in theory; But looking at the rapes during World War I, three French women waiting on the river bank to sleep with German soldiers seem a bit fanciful. It’s funny how the filmmakers defused this exact scene in the movie so dramatically. But in the longing not only to confront the viewer with shocking images, but also with scenes in imitation comic relief To create, she and Remarque are definitely not total strangers to each other.
On the long road to the Oscars (the film should be on the list of nominations after its submission), the work should stand a very good chance. Aside from the fact that the Oscar Academy loves to award prizes to war movies and costumes, the message of the old Remarque and the new version is sadly clear and up-to-date: There is always a winner in a war, but never a winner.
Nothing new in the WestD / USA / GB 2022 – Director: Edward Berger. Writers: Leslie Patterson, Ian Stockel. Camera: James Friend. With: Felix Kamerer, Albrecht Schösch, Daniel Bruhl, David Strizzo. Netflix, 147 minutes. Theatrical release: September 29. Broadcast start: October 28.