In his film Nerves (Nerven), filmed in 1919 in Munich, Robert Reinert attempts to depict “the explosive ferment that war and hardship triggers within people” as a “nervous epidemic that has broken out among the people, driving them to all sorts of deeds and culpabilities.” The fates of various people from different social strata are depicted, including factory owner Roloff, whose faith in technical progress shatters, teacher Johannes, who demands social reforms in public assemblies, and Marja, who becomes a revolutionary, calling on those around her to take up arms against the ruling class. The Munich Film Museum has elaborately reconstructed the film classic from the preserved fragmentary copies (the film had been butchered by the censors). The film anticipates elements of the Expressionist silent films of the 1920s and represents a unique historical document.

“One has to consider this work of art as a whole and view it in the context of the bigger picture. For it not only deals with metaphysical ideas, philosophical ideas, but also with socio-political issues, basic ethical problems and economic debates. Everything human is stirred up within us, and with pictorial, tangibly vivid clarity, Reinert shows us all the pathological and biased aspects we carry around with us as a legacy of war. And when, at the close, his harsh indictment fades away into the kind, gentle, loving words: ‘Back to nature! Work!’, we understand, with a sense of uneasy melancholy, what he means. (...) Stunning technology is also employed. Already the innovation of ‘animated’ intertitles and inscriptions, along with his brilliantly devised dissolves of stills with various degrees of sharpness, and even the unprecedented gruesomeness of the delirious visions are achievements that will be considered extraordinary.”

(Der Kinematograph No. 877, Düsseldorf 31.12.1919)
Shortly after the enormous worldwide success of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, the film rights were sold to America and an elaborate production got underway at Universal Studios that attempted to stage the reality in the trenches as effectively as possible. Unlike similar melodramatic American anti-war films from the 1920s (THE BIG PARADE, 1925 / WHAT PRICE GLORY, 1926 / WINGS, 1927 / SEVENTH HEAVEN, 1927), the film is told from the perspective of a former pacifist with positive German role models, and was therefore by no means undisputed. The story of three German boys who enthusiastically march to the front, incited by their teachers and parents, is told in chronological order – unlike in the novel.

Author: Stefan Drößler
Director of the Film Museum in Munich

Translation by
TITELBILD Subtitling and Translation GmbH

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December 1919

Director: Robert Reinert
Screenplay: Robert Reinert
Camera: Helmar Lerski
Music: Joachim Bärenz (2008)

Eduard von Winterstein (Roloff), Lia Borré (Elisabeth Roloff), Erna Morena (Marja Roloff), Paul Bender (Johannes), Lili Dominici (Schweste von Johannes), Rio Ellbon (Richard), Margarete Tondeur (Amme)

Production: Monumental-Film Robert Reinert
Format: 35mm, Normalformat 1:1,37, Schwarzweiß (eingefärbt)
Lenght: 110 min

DVD: Edition Filmmuseum (English and French subtitles), Goethe-Institut (English and French subtitles)     

Blu-ray: Filmmuseum München (no subtitles)