african-american directors series: devil in a blue dress (carl franklin, 1995)
sign of the gladiator (guido brignone, 1959)

all quiet on the western front (edward berger, 2022)

The latest version of All Quiet on the Western Front reminded me of a couple of other WWI films. As I wrote at the time about 1917, "I'm not sure it's possible to make a pro-war movie about WWI." And there is the greatest of WWI movies, Kubrick's Paths of Glory, where the real targets of Kubrick’s attention are the highest-ranking officers of the French army. You get some of this in All Quiet in the late scenes with the general demanding that his troops spend the last 15 minutes before the armistice fighting for German "honor".

Tim Goodman pointed out that "You just can’t escape the odd, unsettling, eeriness of watching a movie set between 1914-1918 and see modern day similarities to Ukraine, 2023." This makes war seem inevitable and inescapable, and it's hard to imagine anyone watching All Quiet on the Western Front and feeling even a smidgen of hope. (Paths of Glory is similar, except there is a tacked-on final scene that tries to make the audience leave at least a little bit better.)

One of the best things about All Quiet is the insistence that there is no heroism possible under these circumstances. Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) is the closest thing to a main character, and he acts nobly for the most part. But World War I was a stupid war (even given the general stupidity of all wars), and there is nothing any of these soldiers can do that might be called heroic. They are like Sisyphus, endlessly pushing a rock up a hill, watching it roll back down the hill, and then returning to push it up the hill again. There was no point in what the soldiers were asked to do, and while Edward Berger doesn't go as far as Kubrick in damning the generals, they are the ones who send the soldiers to their meaningless deaths.

The film is nominated for 9 Oscars, including Best Picture. One nomination it definitely deserves is for Best Makeup ... the varieties of mud-caked faces are amazing. Felix Kammerer is great ... it's hard to believe this is his first film. I'm not saying any of the five Actor nominees are unworthy, but Kammerer is hard to forget after this movie. Best Picture? It's not an insult to say it's not as good as some of the other nominees ... I'd say a nomination is an appropriate reward for the quality of the film.


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