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Film Review: All Quite on the Western Front

I have never been a soldier at war, although I have close friends and relatives who have been. Universally they don’t like to talk about the experience, and often we don’t find out about the horrors they have been through until friends tell their stories at their funeral. All Quiet on the Western Front is the closest many of us will ever come to enduring a soldier’s suffering. It is the third cinematic adaptation of the celebrated 1929 novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque, who fought in and survived the First World War. The story is based on his first-hand experience and begins as a group of school pals are drafted into the Imperial German Army to fight heroic battles with promises of glorious victory for their homeland. We see that unbeknownst to these schoolboys, they are issued uniforms recovered from soldiers who died in a recent battle. The realities of the landscape of war into which these young soldiers are catapulted are gut-wrenching due to the breathtaking cinematography, sound and acting in this film. See it on the big screen if you can. The film will hit you in the face, juxtaposing breathtakingly rich details with the excruciating pain, loneliness and futile torture of war.

The screenplay is beautifully written by Ian Stokell and Lesley Paterson, who are uniquely qualified to memorialize the soldiers’ inhuman suffering. Paterson grew up in Scotland and earned her Master’s in Theatre from San Diego State. She was a competitive swimmer and a dancer as a child. She gave up swimming when she started to lose races, but she never lost her will to compete. Later she became a champion Triathlete, even though she’s only 5’ tall. She knows something about perseverance against all odds and human deprivation. Ian Stokell, has been a journalist with the Washington Post, has a degree in History of Ideas and a master’s in physical education. He is a writer of short stories, novels and scripts and published a top selling book on coaching women’s soccer…and he’s also a singer/songwriter and an accomplished photographer.

German director Edward Berger assembled a superb team to make this movie. Volker Bertelmann, aka Haruschka, a composer, pianist and experimental musician, has created one of the most unique and haunting soundtracks ever, a perfect balance for the vivid and emotional images caught on film by cinematographer James Friend and editor Sven Budelmann. The colors speak and the soundtrack becomes a character – that’s the only way I can describe the visceral impact. The directing, camera work and editing put you front and center with “Paul Baumer,” a soldier, amidst of a war he would never have bought into, had he only known the truth. 

Felix Kammerer, a young Austrian actor with no prior film and TV credits, gives a brilliant performance as Paul. As the son of two well-known Austrian opera singers his life has been surrounded with theatrical excellence and he has acted on stage since childhood. To prepare for the role, Kammerer ran 10km daily with a weighted vest to prepare for this role. 

Experts on World War I have nitpicked the details on the equipment, the tanks and the staging of battles in the film. However, the catastrophic impact of the emotional toll and the unimaginable scope of war hits home in this movie. This is a tragic cinematic poem about a disastrous event in modern history. There is no need to comb details for accuracy. The visuals, sound and acting evoke extreme human emotions. The horror of war is all there to be experienced. The narrative presents how callous leaders hunger for war, and their jockeying for power is carried down from generation to generation. In World War I, 17 million soldiers lost their lives, and that did not stop the grinding of political machinery in its relentless march towards even more devastating events.

Academy Award Nominations for: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best International Feature Film, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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