eThere are no anti-war films. There are only war films that live up to their subject matter and others that don’t. The fact that Lewis Milestone’s Nothing New in the West, the first film adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel from 1928, is still considered an anti-war film has to do with the fact that Milestone dared to do something in 1930 which was the lack of a war film director. Dare Before: Told a Story Without Heroes.
His main character Paul Bomer is one of many, one face among millions, and in the end, too, in violation of every cinematic convention, Boomer dies. The Milestone movie, they threw stink bombs into movie theaters, white mice drove the ground, and swept the visitors. Ultimately they were banned from performing by the state, the effect of which was only slightly mitigated by the latest release under strict liberalizing conditions. The accompanying censorship card from the Supreme Council of Film Review of the Weimar Republic is available to the public at the Berlin Kinemathek.
The Edward Berger film adaptation – the third after Delbert Mann’s 1979 TV version – also wants it to be a story without heroes. That is why it began with images of assault, where men in gray uniforms fall from their trench, pass no man’s land under enemy fire, shoot, scream, fall, and eventually end up on a pile of searched and searched dead. They were stripped naked by the rescue teams. The bloodstained uniform goes to the dry cleaners and then to the seamstresses’ workbench, who repair holes torn by bullets and shrapnel. At the end of the recycling cycle, clothing items are in the distribution of materials for soldiers’ supplies. One of the jackets still has its previous owner’s name tag when it is handed over to the next war volunteer. His name is Paul Boomer.
Berger’s movie takes about 15 minutes before the story moves into the first person perspective in which the Remarque mould was written. This change of perspective is not a problem for the novel because it can constantly modify the relationship between the reader and the narrator. On the other hand, the movie sticks with its main character once he starts seeing the world through their eyes. So, Berger’s camera quickly jumped back into the long shot and lured Paul Bäumer into a panorama of Imperial customs. “Northern Germany, Spring 1917” is a world with entire high school classrooms, spurred on by their German professors, reporting full on frontline work. After the uniforms were handed over, Boomer and his friends at Remarque were sharpened in the barracks yard. Their coach’s name, Hemelstus, literally represented the spirit of German mandate in the late Weimar Republic. On the other hand, Berger got rid of the grinder. He wants to get to that point—and overlooks the fact that he’s getting past the goal without hitting the sky: war as a social phenomenon, not just a military one.
What can then be seen was described by the Film Review Board in Wiesbaden in its report on “Nothing New in the West” as follows: “Berger and his cameraman James Friend impressively establish trenches … The recordings are very accurate and consist entirely in that they look almost beautiful in In the midst of all this harshness, also because Berger and his friend continue to show loud shots of trees and nature. At the volume level, the repetitive melody with heavy bass creates an ominous, ominous mood….” This is a shocking finale with the inclusion of a cultural film, a record of a battle with the aesthetic. Unfortunately the description is correct. We must add that the director and his photographer work not only by “laying” the trench, but also during the whole war, from individual bombing to bombing, from throwing grenades to using spades, from burial to tanks and flamethrower attacks. And that the image of the upper half of a man’s corpse in a branch thorn also belongs to the “almost pretty”-looking shots. It’s almost as if the movie was trying to catch up on the lessons of barracks left out on the battlefield, not forgetting the usual kind of hell shot.