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02/14/2023 | Film and series review

"Nothing New in the West" by Edward Berger: A Film without Mercy

by Lukas Goebel

Nothing New in the West is the third film adaptation of the German literary classic of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque. Directed by Edward Berger and produced in Germany, Great Britain and the United States, the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2022. In addition, the film was nominated for an Oscar in nine categories by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - - including in the Best Picture category.

World War I had already been raging on the battlefields of Europe for two and a half years. Many German citizens, mostly young men, volunteer for military service in the wake of war propaganda spread by the German Empire. Often, by serving at the front, they expect to embark on an adventure and hope to be hailed as heroes upon their return home. Even 17-year-old Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) and his friends sign up for enlistment after being recommended by their teacher and are readily accepted for muster. Relatively quickly, the film changes the scenery from the rather idyllic and calmly depicted German Empire to the Western Front in France, which is characterized by no man's land and trench warfare. Here, Bäumer's circle of friends quickly learns that this is not the adventure they had hoped for, but rather a fight to the death.

Even if the film adaptation does not live up to the literary original in many aspects, it still works wonderfully as a mirror of the First World War - even if only from the German point of view. Already at the beginning of Im Westen Nichts Neues depictions of violence and otherwise incisive experiences are staged. If one gets involved with the film, these two aspects create a feeling that few to almost no other moving images can manage. The combination of true-to-the-original costumes and realistic scenery also make the film very credible, which definitely supports the previously mentioned aspects of violence and traumatization and makes their effect all the more present.

Apart from the physical and psychological brutality of the Great War experienced by Paul Bäumer, there are also some scenes in which the Reichstag politician Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) holds peace negotiations with the French General Ferdinand Foch (Thibault de Montalembert). Even in these scenes are by no means calm: they function in a verbal way as a depiction of violence. In addition, the tensions between the Germans and the French are portrayed very credibly on the basis of the negotiations. This, in combination with the visually very impressive experiences that Paul Bäumer experiences during his deployment on the Western Front, results in a film that has never before been produced in Germany.

In summary, it can be said that Im Westen nichts Neues will rightly go down in moving picture history as one of the most successful German films. Like no other film, the adaptation, which is also available on Netflix, manages to capture and present the feelings of the soldiers of the First World War in a credible way, which is supported above all by Felix Kammerer's acting performance. Especially in light of the still ongoing Ukrainian war, this film should definitely be watched. Even though it deals with the First World War, one can probably relate the cruelty of the fighting depicted here in a similar or even the same way to the war in Ukraine and thus try to understand how people feel who have to suffer under the war.