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Christopher Dubey
Christopher Dubey

All Quiet On The Western Front

On November 7, 1918, German official Matthias Erzberger, weary of mounting losses, meets with German High Command to persuade them to begin armistice talks with the Allied powers. Meanwhile, Paul and Kat steal a goose from a farm to share with Albert, Franz, and another veteran, Tjaden Stackfleet, with whom they have grown close behind the front in Champagne. Kat, who is illiterate, gets Paul to read him a letter from his wife and worries that he will be unable to reintegrate into peacetime society. Franz spends the night having sex with a French woman and brings back her scarf as a souvenir.

All Quiet On The Western Front

On November 9, Erzberger and the German delegation board a train bound for the Forest of Compiègne to negotiate a ceasefire. Paul and his friends go on a mission to find 60 missing recruits sent to reinforce their unit and discover that they were killed by gas after taking off their masks too soon. General Friedrichs, who opposes the armistice talks, orders an attack before French reinforcements arrive. That night, Erzberger's delegation reaches the Forest of Compiègne, and Paul's regiment is sent to the front to prepare to attack the French lines.

On November 10, Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch gives the Germans 72 hours to accept the non-negotiable Allied terms. Meanwhile, the German attack takes the French front line after hand-to-hand fighting but is routed by a combined arms counterattack, in which the French use Saint-Chamond tanks to overcome German defenses. Franz is separated from the group, and Albert dies trying to surrender. Trapped in a crater in no man's land with a French soldier, Paul stabs him and watches him die slowly, becoming remorseful and asking for forgiveness from his dead body.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: The first scenes of "All Quiet On The Western Front" are, well, quiet. The sun is rising. A fox feeds her kits in their burrow. The forest above slowly wakes, and a gentle rumble signals a coming storm.

Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer) is a young man who doesn't want to be left behind when all his friends head off to fight in World War I at the start of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. He forges his parents' signature and enlists. All the new young recruits are pumped with energy and enthusiasm about fighting for their country. Within mere hours after setting off with their troops, these men realize just how terrible the conditions are for soldiers, and how devastating war is on the psyche. Men die by the thousands, including all of Paul's friends. An older soldier, Kat (Albrecht Schuch), takes him under his wing, but nobody can truly be protected in the trenches and on the battlefields on the disputed western front. Meanwhile, the liberal politician Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Bruhl) works to sign a peace deal with France in time to save some lives.

Not every viewer will be willing or able to sit through two and a half hours of epic, bloody, graphically violent war reenactments. But those who do make it through this third film version (and the first in German) of the classic German novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, will be rewarded with a subtly humane tale of friendship, endurance, and the value of human life. The violence serves the story and its message. Director Edward Berger and team have done a jaw-dropping job of choreographing battlefield scenes, shooting them often at eye level and embedded in the trenches, giving the viewer the impression of being in the mix. A disquieting score relies heavily on single, melancholic beats that come and go with the action. Newcomer Kammerer is excellent as the wide-eyed recruit who barely withstands each passing day of tragedy.

Quiet is shot in grey, blue, and brown tones, and painstakingly conveys the soldiers' horrific, near-starvation, mud-caked, boot-soaked conditions. These are compared in overlapping scenes with the exquisite luxuries military leaders are afforded. Soldiers are killed, dismembered, exploded, set on fire, and sent into a last deadly battle just minutes before the armistice. The film has a clear theme of how little the lives of the young men seem to matter to some of the higher-ups, or to the enemy. "Soon Germany will be empty," one character says. End credits tell us almost 17 million people died in World War I, three million battling uselessly over the western front. Scenes capture how single trenches get passed back and forth on the same fought-over land between opposing sides for years, and how the uniforms of the dead are practically yet cynically washed, sewn back up, and handed out to new recruits, with perished soldiers' names on labels ripped out and tossed to the floor.

Families can talk about why the young men are so eager to go to war in All Quiet on the Western Front. What did you think of the scene at the beginning where they are cheering about their turn to go to the frontlines?

Know what? They're really, really right. Berger's take on the material grabs you from the get-go with tension that won't quit. In an early scene, we see an unknown soldier gunned down on the front, after which his uniform is removed, sent to a laundry where the bullet holes are sewn up and then shipped off for a new enlistee to wear as the carnage continues.

Paul sees not: He only sees the road ahead this bright sunny day, as he and his closest friends march to the front. He hears only the songs of his fellow soldiers, ready to kill some Frenchmen. He smells only glory.

Almost every anti-war movie made afterwards relied on many of the tropes invented by the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front: the lost innocence of youth; the bonding between brothers in arms; the boredom and banality in the lulls between fighting; the incompetent generals yearning for glory; the soldiers as expendable fodder; and war as an affront against both humanity and nature. 041b061a72


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