All Quiet On The Western Front (2022) Review

Quick Synopsis: A German language adaptation of the classic Remaruqe book of the same name.

This was expected to do good business come award season, after watching it, I can see why. It’s very much an “awards” film. It has some truly beautiful shots, it’s an adaptation of a book, and it’s about “things”. It’s definitely an “important” film, and superbly made. The performances are near perfect and they will definitely make you feel emotions, and will also make you think about the horrors of war and how unfairly young lives can be snuffed out so worthlessly on behalf of others.

But will you enjoy it? It’s all well and good being a technical masterpiece, but I will always favour something I enjoy over something I’m impressed by. Avatar: The Way Of Water (or to give a name nobody else would call it: ATWOW) was a technical masterpiece, whilst I Blame Society was weirdly shot and had multiple audio issues, but I don’t go around telling people they need to watch Avatar, whilst I have annoyingly told everybody to go watch I Blame Society (which I will continue to do until every single one of you watches it). This isn’t quite up there with ATWOW in terms of technical brilliance, but it’s not down there with how much I didn’t enjoy it. I did like this film, I just don’t need to ever watch it again.

Weirdly, despite being a deeply important film, and dealing with pertinent themes, it’s not going to stick in my memory. There are moments which will, a few moments which I’ll be able to tell people about as an example of why this film is good, but overall? You could show me clips from it and I wouldn’t recognise it, I don’t even think I could point out any of the cast in a line-up (so if they do commit a crime, I’d be a terrible eyewitness, but don’t commit crimes).

I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book, or seen any of the other adaptations of the book, so I can’t judge it based on that. I can’t, others can, and those who are, are not being kind. A lot of the vitriol towards AQOTWF (pronounced Aquotwoof for those making notes) comes from Germany, where the book is required reading in many schools, and as such, is a country very familiar with it. The general consensus seems to be that Edward Berger was so “horny for an Oscar” (direct quote) that he missed the themes of the book. There are particular issues with the way the film ends. In the original book, it ends with a notice of the main character’s death, saying “He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: all quiet on the western front.”. In this? He dies as part of a moving cog in the machinery of a loud combat scene. Not only does that betray the themes of the original work, it means the title isn’t even relevant anymore in a way that I haven’t seen since I Am Legend.

There are other issues with it, this AQOTWF is strangely anti-French, distractingly so at times. A lot of the scenes which haven’t been carried over from the original texts are misdeeds of German soldiers, their watches being stolen by their own people in military hospitals for example. This, combined with all the scenes of French soldiers brutally massacring Germans makes it a strange watch. Even the ceasefire scene is mainly focused on how Germany wants peace but France won’t accept it. Not only is the whole thing anti-French, it also doesn’t feel like a message that a film should be putting out at this time. Germany was an invading force during this conflict, so the whole thing feels like what a Russian film talking about the current conflict in Ukraine would be like: “the invading armies were all kind and wonderful, the natives were terrible violent sociopaths”.

It’s a shame, without the changes, I feel I would enjoy this and appreciate it more. But art isn’t released in a vacuum, the context of the general world influences opinion. And the more I think about AQOTWF, the more disappointed by it. It could have been great, it should have been, instead, it’s just very good but never necessary.


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