‘All Quiet on the Western Front’: Oscar return engagement?

When German writer Erich Maria Remarque was 18 and a student at the University of Munster, he was drafted into the army and fought in the trenches on the Western front during World War I. He was wounded five times with the final instance in 1917 being so serious he spent the last year of the conflict recuperating in a German hospital. His experiences during the global conflict inspired his powerful 1929 anti-war novel “All Quiet On the Western Front” which, with the war in Ukraine, seems more timely than ever.

The novel slammed the door on the concept of the romanticism of war. War is hell. The book’s protagonist, the wide-eyed innocent Paul Baumer, and his friends are excited to get into battle on the Western front, exterminate the enemy and return home heroes. But Paul quickly realizes the horrors of war. Reading the book is a visceral experience-one can smell the the death in the muddy trenches, hear the cacophony of grenades, gunfire and cannons.

The book was an instant bestseller with American writer H.L. Mencken proclaiming it “unquestionably the best story of the World War .” A year after its publication, Universal produced the extraordinary pre-Code adaptation directed by Lewis Milestone and starring young Lew Ayres who became a star with his flawless turn as Paul. The movie went on to win Oscars for Best Picture and Director.

Not everyone loved the film. TCM.com noted that an American military leader called the film “anti-military propaganda” and Polish audiences found it “pro-German.”  It’s no surprise Adolf Hitler and the Nazis hated the book and the film. Even before they came to power, they showed their contempt for the film by releasing rats into the theaters Once they ruled, Remarque was persona non grata in Germany. Both the book and film were banned for being “prejudicial to German national prestige,” according to www.history.com and “anti-German.” In fact, the Nazis went so far as to burn copies of the book.

It would take almost half-a-century before there was a remake of the original film. Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine starred in a well-received 1979 CBS TV movie version which was nominated for seven Emmys, winning for film editing for a limited series or special. It also earned the Golden Globe for Best TV Movie.

And it has taken over 90 years since the publication of the novel and the film’s release for Germany to tackle the anti-war epic. Though the original 1930 film is an indelible classic, the Netflix version starring newcomer Felix Kammerer as Paul is formidable anti-war statement thanks to Edward Berger’s no-hold barred, unrelenting direction that puts viewers right in the muck and stench of the trenches; Berger, Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell’s strong script, the pitch-perfect performances and Volker Bertelmann’s pulsating often unnerving score.

The reviews have been strong with Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt writing that the movie feels “both aesthetically dazzling and full of necessary truths; an anti-war drama that transcends the bombast of propaganda mostly just because it’s so artfully and indelibly made.”

The film has won two European Film Awards and Best Adapted Screenplay from the National Board of Review and it reaped a Golden Globe bid for Best Foreign Film. Oscar buzz has not been “All Quiet” especially since it recently made the shortlist for Best International Feature, as well as makeup  & hairstyling, original score, sound and visual effects.

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