All Quiet on the Western Front from Netflix. Invaders steal geese and die ingloriously in the mud
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The German film adaptation of the famous novel by Erich Maria Remarque is merciless, terrible, without any sympathy for the characters-occupiers.
The sensational premiere from Netflix is the film adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's bestseller “All Quiet on the Western Front” from German director Edward Berger. The picture evokes disgust for the war of occupation and for war in principle, as a phenomenon. The idea of the book and the film are the same: war is a machine for the destruction of the living. But the details differ: the film conveys the author's idea harshly and placardically, although it achieves its anti-war goal.
The film, released on the Netflix platform on October 28, immediately began to be discussed on the Web. It is understandable – there is a Russian-Ukrainian war, and here – a screen version of the most famous anti-war novel in the world. The film is highly acclaimed by Western critics (94% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 8.4 out of 10), but there are complaints about the simplification of the characters.
In my opinion, the 52-year-old director Edward Berger did this deliberately to emphasize the senselessness of war as such. At the beginning of the film, we see puppies sucking the mother-dog – this is a natural phenomenon, as the director says, and killing people – yesterday's children – with pieces of iron – this is an unnatural phenomenon …
We observe how mass propaganda affects high school students. And more targeted agitation – their school teacher. The consequence of all this is the joyful excitement of the students in anticipation of the chance to become “real heroes”.
Four classmates volunteer to go to the front of the First World War. At the recruiting stations, 18-year-old boys hear everything too: “You are the steel youth of Germany, the Kaiser needs soldiers, not children!”
The central character of the tape – yesterday's student volunteer Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) is shown to be impossibly naive. “I want to put on my uniform as soon as possible,” he says loudly at the recruiting station. And then he is surprised to find that it has a tag on it – with someone else's last name. The officer calmly tears off the tag with the name of the previous owner of the uniform killed at the front and, smiling radiantly, returns it to the young blockhead: “Now it is completely yours.”
Total meat grinder
Paul and his comrades end up in 1917 on the Western Front, where Germany invaded France. The very first shelling deprives the company of romantic notions of war. But there is also bravado: “Let's shoot the first Frenchman.” They fire at random from the trench, but the return bullet nearly blows Paul's friend's skull off, hitting his helmet. “He fired and immediately took ten steps to the side,” the corporal shouts at them. The games are over.
Next, bayonet attacks filmed to wild naturalism, murders with a knife await you and spatula. Explosions tear off legs, arms, heads. The remains of people hang on trench slingshots entangled with barbed wire.
The first sentimental scene, when Paul buttons up his murdered friend's overcoat. But the commanders do not lose optimism: “Have fun, to hell! Into battle!”
German soldiers slaughtered the French in the dugout and immediately, hungry, rushed to eat the rest of the food on the table. Their marauding meal was interrupted by a roar – armored tank monsters appeared. Late put on gas masks – a company of corpses. Fires from flamethrowers and explosions of aircraft bombs are all around – the death machine mercilessly devours people sent to be slaughtered …
An indescribably beautiful garden in the snow, which is like a promise of a peaceful life. But the war machine does not slow down. Hungry German invaders stealing geese from French farmers is one of the funniest episodes in the picture. “For the sake of food – you can die,” they laugh. But soon they will not be laughing.
There are a couple of analogies with the Russian-Ukrainian war in the tape. The military leadership of the Western Front, in the amount of two people, dine at a disproportionately long table, similar to the one at which Putin received guests and associates. The second is when a German soldier receives a letter from his wife: “Have you started saving money yet?” Similar letters from the wives of the Russian occupiers have already become a commonplace in the satirical sketches of Kvartal 95.
Man or beast: the film's climax
Paul became an experienced front-line soldier. In hand-to-hand combat, he stabbed the Frenchman in the chest with a knife. The enemy soldier wheezes, blood oozes through the holes in his overcoat. Paul's hysterical cries: “Don't scream!” He brutally covers the Frenchman's mouth with earth. And here they lie – the victim and the killer. The Frenchman looks at the German with blue eyes. And that suddenly breaks through: it's a man! The German feels sorry for the French soldier. He rushes with the knife again to cut the overcoat – to help the Frenchman breathe. Paul runs for water to wash his mouth from the earth, which he himself poured. “Sorry, friend!” he shouts to the dying man. One half of the protagonist's face is covered in dirt, the other half is clean: half is a beast, half is a man. The Frenchman's blue eyes freeze as they stare up at the sky. Paul takes out his papers: Duval Gerard, printer. Pictured is his wife and daughter. “I will find your wife,” the German cries. It seemed that the transformation of the hero had taken place.
However, then the half-crazed Paul again becomes a murderous beast – moreover, in a much more absurd situation. And now his whole head is dark with dirt. Berger is extremely symbolic: the hero did not realize anything.
Who is the protagonist?
The protagonist in the film is not the main character at all, but a real historical person – this is the politician and writer Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl ) – the head of the armistice commission between the Entente and Germany, who was the first to put his signature on the document that ended the First World War. His son died in this war and Matthias is doing everything so that “soldiers stop dying every hour.” For him, as well as for the authors of the film and the audience, it is obvious: the only right decision is to stop the massacre. The film does not talk about his future fate: Matthias Erzberger was killed by the Nazis in 1921.