( ) — Wounded, Paul Baümer trudges through the gloom trying to get out of the shelter and into the light, only to stare at the ashes blown by the wind while around him French and German soldiers run between the trenches.
It is November 11, 1918, and at the First World War it has a few minutes left before the armistice that will put an end to hostilities comes into effect. But those few minutes will cost dearly.
The scene corresponds to the climatic point of “All Quiet on the Western Front” (All Quiet on the Western Front, in English, or Im Westen Nichts Neues, in its original German), the film released by Netflix in 2022 that won four awards on Sunday Oscar — including best foreign film, but also cinematography, soundtrack and production design — after arriving at the ceremony as one of the favorites with nine nominations.
Directed by Edward Berger and starring Felix Kammerer and Daniel Brühl, this anti-war film centering on the German experience during the brutal conflict between 1914 and 1918 has become a favorite, recently winning best film at the BAFTA.
“It seemed important to me to tell the story from a German perspective, since Germany wreaked havoc on the world in the last century. Two wars started from that country,” said Berger to ‘s Nada Bashir.
But there is much more behind the story of Paul Baümer and his trench companions.
A powerful story, three versions on screen
This 2022 “All Quiet at the Front” is the third film adaptation of what is probably the most famous novel to emerge from World War I and written by Erich Maria Remarque: “Im Westen nichts Neues” (either No news at the frontas it was translated from the German).
In fact, the first film version, premiered in 1930 and directed by Lewis Milestone, it won the Oscar for best film at the awards ceremony that year. For the current 2022 version to do so now would, for this reason, be quite unusual and, at the same time, a testament to the power of Remarque’s original work.
A second version, filmed by Delbert Mann in 1979 and starring Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine, it did not have a theatrical release and was directed to television. It is the least celebrated of the three versions.
The films and the book on which they are based share a series of premises: Paul Baümer is a teenager finishing school who is captivated by the ideas of nationalism and patriotism that flooded Europe in the moments immediately prior to the outbreak of the conflict, and together with his friends join the German army with a hunger for glory and adventure.
What follows is a path marked by the horror of combat, disappointment with the military and adult world, and amazement at senseless slaughter, all crowned with the revelation that there is no difference between the French and the Germans, archetypal enemies during the conflict and the book
Each adaptation, however, interpreted a different ending from the deliberately ambiguous and parsimonious final page of Remarque’s novel, which makes sense of the otherwise utilitarian phrase “all uneventful on the front.”
And these endings summarize, in some way, the tone that separates each of the three adaptations: from the sentimentality and symbolism of the 1930 Hollywood version, in black and white and spoken in English; to the limited in ambitions and somewhat more intimate iteration of 1979, also filmed with American actors and spoken in English, although this time in color.
The 2022 version, meanwhile, is marked by brutality —and the modern effects to represent it—, fury and stupor, filmed in color but with a palette dominated by gray and spoken for the first time in German, where the action only seems to be interrupted by long paintings focused on light and nature, with echoes of director Terrence Malick in “The Thin Red Line.”
Berger’s film is also the furthest from the end of the book.
A book that lives on
Remarque, the author who originated all this, had fought in the war and knew what he was talking about.
Between July 1914, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia starting point of the conflict, until the armistice of November 11, 1918, near 8.5 million soldiers died and more than 20 million were wounded on different fronts and across several continents.
It was the most brutal war in history up to that time, second only to World War II, which broke out in 1939 in many ways as a continuation of the tensions of the first.
In 1916, the third year of the war, Remarque was drafted into the German army — he was 18 years old — and in 1917 he was sent to the front lines in Flanders, where he fought in some of the most brutal battles and was wounded, according to data. biographical records recorded by the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Center in Osnabrück, his hometown in Germany.
After the armistice, Remarque resumed his studies to become a teacher, interrupted by the war, and it took him almost a decade to start working on his book: he did so in 1927, and managed to publish it in 1929.
“Im Westen nichts Neues” was an almost immediate success: its realistic representation of the war and its pacifist message found a place first in the defeated and convulsed German society, but also, after the first translations into English, French and Russian, in the rest of Europe and in much of the world. In total, it is estimated that the fictional story -but based on real experiences- of characters like Paul Baümer, Stanislaus Katczinsky and Tjaden, among many others, has sold some 50 million copies.
Banned by the Nazis in 1933, the novel is still in print to this day, with translations in 41 languages, and it has become one of the most important literary works to emerge from the First World War and a basic text for Europeans, which is still valid and continues to inspire new adaptations such as the recent Netflix film.
“Let’s hope that (this film) helps to understand that nothing good can come out of war,” said Berger to . “We all know it, but we seem to tend to forget it.”