"All Quiet on the Western Front" – except at this year’s Oscars
A German picture picked up four gold statuettes at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. And with that, Edward Berger’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Im Westen nichts Neues) has made film history.
Von Anna Berchtenbreiter
“And the Oscar goes to: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front‘!” This announcement was heard no less than four times during this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. In other words, Edward Berger’s anti-war epic (German title: Im Westen nichts Neues) garnered more Oscars than any other German film in history. The Netflix production was voted Best International Feature, Best Cinematography (James Friend), Best Original Score (Volker Bertelmann aka Hauschka) and Best Production Design (Christian M. Goldbeck & Ernestine Hipper). The film was also nominated in five other categories, including Best Picture.
It was the first time in over fifteen years that a German picture has won the so-called “foreign Oscar”, the Academy Award for Best International Feature. The coveted prize has previously been awarded to Volker Schlöndorff’s adaptation of the novel “The Tin Drum” in 1980, Caroline Link’s drama “Nowhere in Africa” in 2003 and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Stasi drama “The Lives of Others” in 2007.
But this isn’t the first time a film by the self-same title has been nominated for an Oscar. The first film version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” was a US production and actually won Best Picture back in 1930. It was later banned by the Nazis in Germany.
Edward Berger’s film is a new, German adaptation of the eponymous 1928 novel by Erich Maria Remarque. It’s about 17-year-old Paul Bäumer (played by Felix Kammerer) and some of his schoolmates, who enthusiastically enlist for military service in World War I after a patriotic speech by their teacher exhorting them to go to war. What Paul then experiences in the trenches on the Western front is not a grand adventure, however, but the horror of war: its brutality and senseless slaughter. And the film doesn’t sugarcoat anything in its portrayal of bloody battles against a muddy backdrop – with no heroes and no pathos in sight.
But Berger’s adaptation diverges somewhat from Remarque’s novel. It leaves out the part about Paul’s home leave and adds a subplot in which a German official by the name of Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) tries to negotiate an armistice with the French. Some critics have objected to these deviations from the book. Nevertheless, Berger’s anti-war drama has been a huge success around the world since its release, garnering seven BAFTAs in the UK, including the award for Best Film.
That success may be partly owing to the film’s anti-war message. In view of Russia’s current war of aggression against Ukraine, the subject-matter is unexpectedly topical and the film depicts in graphic detail the ravages of war on those swept up in the carnage.