“The novel had always been important to me and that is true for almost everybody that worked on this film,” reveals “All Quiet on the Western Front” producer Malte Grunert. “I had read the novel when I was in my teens and then again in my 20s. It was always an iconic book. When the possibility presented itself to have access to the rights and do it again — a German-language adaptation of the best-selling German novel of all time — it felt like a blind spot. Why didn’t anybody ever do this?”
Watch our video interview with Grunert and the Netflix film’s Oscar-nominated composer Volker Bertelmann (“Lion”) above. “All Quiet on the Western Front” is Germany’s official entry for Best International Feature at the 95th Academy Awards. The epic war drama is based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque and directed by Edward Berger. It tells the story of a young German solider (played by Felix Kammerer) and his terrifying experience and distress during World War I.
“We live in a time when right-wing nationalist propaganda is on the rise,” Grunert adds. “There are right-wing parties in parliament all over Europe, Hungary, Poland, there’s a strong right-wing fraction in France, Netherlands, there are German neo-Nazis. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is a story about a few young men who, fueled by nationalist propaganda, enlist and go into war as if it was an adventure. War is not an adventure. War is ultimately just death and destruction and pain. It felt like a relevant thing to revisit.”
This is Volker’s fifth collaboration with Berger, and he says “the process is not automatically easy” when developing the score. “A good work relationship in the creative world is fueled by challenging each other,” he explains. “When I received from Edward the first comments about music he said to me, ‘Please, can you do something very extraordinary that you’ve never done before.’ When you hear that you’re sweating. But at the same time, that’s necessary, otherwise you sit at home, switch on the synthesizer and think, ‘That’s fine, that will work.'”
“Me and Edward saw [the film] in Berlin together,” Volker continues. “On the way back home I already had the raw elements in my head. I was thinking, I need a very small, fragmented melody that I can use in small sections. Even in the war areas I can throw it in as a fragment that goes in and comes out. The other thing is that I wanted to use an instrument from that time. I went back home and I found an instrument from that time, which was the harmonium from my great-grandmother that was sitting in my studio. Here we go! I recorded the first three notes and sent them to Edward. He said, ‘It sounds like Led Zeppelin. Please go on!'”
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