(Anti)war movie rebooted
“Nothing new in the West”? Are you joking? You are serious about this!
The war in Ukraine is currently making us look east with horror. The remake of Nothing New in the West looks the other way and looks back over 100 years. But the material has not lost its relevance.
At least in our country, Erich Maria Remarque’s Nothing New in the West is probably a classic of anti-war literature par excellence. And this is despite the fact that the “novel”, as a work written in 1928, began to be called only since 1957, in fact, is just a sober description of the war.
In his book, Remarque not only processed his own experience as a soldier of the German Reich on the Western Front in the First World War (1914-1918). He also incorporated reports and diaries from other fighters on the front lines into his narrative, which is told by the fictional Paul Bäumer in the first person.
Therefore, the term “novel” is quite appropriate. However, this does not detract from the reality of the description. This was denied at best by the Nazis, who burned thousands of copies of Nothing New in the West. However, for everyone else, the book is a constant reminder of the horrors of armed conflict, especially in times of industrial warfare and the use of weapons of mass destruction.
Through German glasses
Remarque’s factual description of the horrific events in the trenches, bomb craters and clouds of poisonous gas alone is enough to lift Nothing New in the West out of the war and into an anti-war narrative. He didn’t need an ideology or a raised index finger. A circumstance that allowed conscientious objection to military service in the Federal Republic. The reference to Remarque’s novel was relatively harmless and therefore part of the standard repertoire of denial.
Nothing New in the West has already been filmed twice. The first time was actually in 1930. With a resounding success: not only director Lewis Milestone received an Oscar for his work. The strip was also awarded the “Best Film” of the time. The second film adaptation dates from 1979. Although this adaptation was intended only as a television production, director Delbert Mann also received positive reviews and a Golden Globe Award for Best TV Movie.
What Milestone and Mann have in common: They were both American directors and their films were Anglo-Saxon. However, in Germany no one dared to interpret the novel from their own country on the big screen. Still. Edvard Berger, a former director on Tatort or on the much-lauded TV series Germany 83, first set about directing Nothing New in the West through German film and film spectacles. Netflix streaming service.
Felix Kammerer to make feature film debut
Berger only loosely bases his story on Remarque’s template. The film differs significantly from the novel in many places. This is also due to the fact that he is not limited to the subjective point of view of the soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer). For example, Berger turns his attention to the military command camp where General Friedrich (David Strizov) wants to continue the war, or to diplomatic negotiations to end hostilities in a railroad car near Compiègne in France. But even as you watch German negotiator Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) literally blow his tough Allied opponent to pieces, one thing remains clear: the wounded, maimed and dead continue to pile up on the battlefields outside.
Of course, the horrors of war experienced by Bäumer and his comrades are also the focus of Berger’s film adaptation. Here the director again stays close to his characters. He does not focus on depicting the grand picture of the battle, but rather highlights individual suffering and horror. For example, he almost completely ignores the topic of the war on poison gases. For example, the scene described by Remarque, in which Bäumer lies in a bunker with a slowly dying Frenchman, is given eleven tense minutes of space.
Aside from Strizov and Brühl, the film only features a moderately well-known cast. The fact that there is no crowded star cast that distracts from immersion in history is more of a plus than a minus. At the forefront is the Austrian Felix Kammerer in the title role of Paul Bäumer. For the 27-year-old actor, who works at the Vienna Burgtheater, among other things, this is his feature film debut.
German contribution to the Oscars
And it’s as impressive as the film itself, which manages to keep the viewer on their toes for almost two and a half hours. It is also aided by the interplay between James Friend’s heavy use of the camera and Volker Bertelmann’s deliberately unsettling film score. All in all, the German interpretation of Nothing New in the West is a compelling anti-war film that shouldn’t be hidden from previous versions. No wonder this film will be the German contribution to the upcoming Oscar.
While this story revolves around a conflict that is over 100 years old, it feels more relevant than ever against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine. A war of aggression that was forced on a defending Ukraine and from which there seems to be only one military way out at the moment. The message that Nothing New in the West sends and underpins Berger’s film is nonetheless important and true for all time: after all, wars only know losers on all sides.
Nothing New in the West is in German theaters now and will be available on Netflix from October 28th.