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All Quiet on the Western Front


‘…The 2022 All Quiet on the Western Front does capture the zeitgeist, the hopeless, desperate feeling of modern life…’

The title of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel is part of our common parlance; the phrase has come to mean that nothing is happening, nothing is changing. But everything is currently changing in terms of cinema; the audience have turned their backs on the box-office, attendance is a fraction of what it was before the pandemic. Here in Scotland, beloved international institutions like the Edinburgh Film Festival have gone bankrupt while cinemas like the Filmhouse face a new potential future as private flats; both suffered the toxic blast of taking Netflix subsidies in the hope of survival. Barely seen in UK cinemas at all, All Quiet in the Front is a product from the self-avowed disruptor currently waging a war on the notion of going to the cinema itself, somewhat ironically the winner of seven BAFTAS including Best Film at last night’s ceremony. Netflix’s influence closes our cinemas; the streamer is the direct competitor set against big-screen entertainment, and it’s a fight to the death.

Remarque’s novel used to be handed out in schools; it’s a first hand account of WWI seen from the POV of a soldier, Paul Baumer, played in this German-language version by Paul Kammerer. Baumer navigates the kind of war-scape that Gurdjieff wrote about, with piles of boots and coffins indicating the kind of resource and planning that wholesale misery requires; even Paul’s uniform still bears the nametag of his now-departed predecessor. The point is to capture the madness of war, and Edward Berger’s film has a less restrictive canvas to work on compared to the 1930 and 1979 versions that went before; this is a uber-violent film full of torn flesh, explosions and dynamic viscera, a hell-scape where the war movie’s venerable clichés, like the glasses of a dead man, get yet another outing.

Although the individual stories get lost, the 2023 All Quiet on the Western Front is generally effective when providing a picaresque view of trench horror; a floor of corpses given a casual explanation ‘They took off their masks too soon.’ ‘Tonight will be even worse…’ is a typically downbeat line, although ‘What is a soldier without war?’ conveys a similarly desolate, hopeless idea. Surgery is brutal, hacksaw to bone amputations, an addled soldier forms an attachment to a pin up of a woman, but the females otherwise play no part other than sewing the men’s uniforms together. The headlights are dimmed in sequence on a snaking convoy of trucks as they approaches a front that never moves; it’s all grim stuff. ‘Half the world is involved, and God looks down…’

Streaming tier Netflix is now the fox that our academies have given them free run of the chicken coop; they’ve safeguarded their own futures at the expense of the cinema they’re supposedly celebrating and protecting. War is breaking out, abroad and at home, but we’re not invited to comment, correct our course or even examine the damage; projects like this direct us for the thousandth time back to our history books rather than dare to look at or talk about what’s happening to us right now. The 2022 All Quiet on the Western Front does capture the zeitgeist, the hopeless, desperate feeling of modern life; we’re all powerless, fighting without choice and forever losing in a sh*tty everyday war that we won’t be allowed to win. The road back to civilisation is out of reach; for now, all that we know is disruption, chaos, the endless boot to the face and the slow death of cinema itself.


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  1. Like others here, I like the comparison to the death of cinema, which I fear is finally upon us. I thought the pandemic would surely kill it, then I thought it was back, but I think not.

    At this point any great film feels like that last of a dying breed rather than the start of the resurgence.

    I’ll skip this one. I’m not a fan of war films in general – the endless slog of death and killing usually numbs me. I can objectively see the quality in films like Saving Private Ryan and 1917 but they always leave me sort of cold. I think this one would be no different.

    • This will probably leave you colder. Throw another baby on the bonfire movies. Too many war films dressed as anti war films but neither one thing or another. But if the film of the year barely touched cinemas, how can it be the best cinema film of the year? Coda had the same problem, it’s not that it’s bad, but it’s a movie seen on tv, not in cinemas. There’s a separate tier for tv, but Netflix will keep disrupting long after cinema is dead…

  2. Can’t say that I thought of it that way, but there’s truth your statement about cinema. I rewatched All Quiet on the Western Front last year and I watched the 1979 TV movie the same day as the 2022 film. They’re all different based on the year they came out, but the hopelessness of the war is the same in every one. I can see it winning Best Picture, but it’s hard to say at this point.

    • This new version is a good adaptation. And the book is still very much worth reading. But movies can change the world, and how we think, and All Quiet surely can’t be the most useful text in terms of understanding what’s happening today. Although the focus on individual misery isn’t far off…

  3. Powerful statement: “projects like this direct us for the thousandth time back to our history books rather than dare to look at or talk about what’s happening to us right now.” And history books are biased and flawed, full of lies and out of the park guesstimates. Cinema vs streaming resonants a version of poem Who killed cock robin… fix the behavior of movie go’ers and perhaps you’ll fix the demise of… at least in US, too many rude, mannerless folks, not to mention price of a ticket, inability to control volume, and hassle of finding parking and optimum seating. Get people passionate (as we are) about analyzing film quality and the very things you diligently and creatively write about daily. Get them enraptured again about the magical looks of awe (or fear) on others faces. Return us to the physical, non digital marketplace of enthusiasm. Get more writers to write and directors to direct movies worth savoring. All’s Quiet does try to teach, show by example, and it has engaged a few to question and rant about the madness of war and who it benefits. You pointed out a few of the movies many symbols. In the book a pair of shoes was passed around, from dead corpse to living…showing boots of more value than human life. The carnage serves as a counter weight to blind patriotism. Who killed Cock Robin? We all had a part in it. What we can do is ensure everyone knows how bloody magnificent it was to sit in a darkened theater with strangers and be transported, to share an experience that was/is like no other. And wait for Version 2.0 to materialize?

    • I hear you, and I’m taking zero responsibility for killing yon birdie. But fortunately its not quite as dead as the proverbial dead parrot, so there’s still a chance. What’s not working right now is the slow release over the next few years of projects concienved, developed and filmed before or during the pandemic; the world has made many of these projects seem well beyond their sell-by dates. British and German trade continues during WWI, even while two tribes were trying to murder each other on the battle field. War and capitalism go hand in hand; economics mean that war is always happening somewhere…in terms of cinema, you’ll forget the parking, the inflated snack prices, the rude patrons, when there’s summat on screen that you just have to see. We crave that electrifying communal experience that unites all ages, creeds and beliefs, and no, that’s not Ant Man: Quadrophenia. We need new, radical content to get us excited; for Netflix to revive this ancient warhorse is surplus to our requirements. We’re always looking backwards, always afraid to offend anyone right now; democracy is under threat around the world, and we’re not laying a punch on anyone. We need films that deal with the here and now, and streamers dodn’t have the same shareholders and tie-ins that big, old studios have, so there’s nowt to stop them trying. We can make a better world, but we do need to try…

  4. So is this even likely to come out on DVD? Or is that another form of film experience that the streamers are at war-to-the-death with?

    Hope it does as I’d like to see it. Didn’t know that about the Edinburgh festival. That seems like pretty big news. How does a festival go bankrupt anyway? Or did they just figure it wasn’t worth putting on anymore?

    • Goodness knows. Commercial and art house cinema is on its arse. One big reason is that awards bodies see their competitors as equals, and that is not changing anytime soon. Netflix have done done physical media for stuff like Marriage Story, so I guess this might get the same. But in general, Netflix is just about making things work for Netflix and destroying everything else; that’s what disruption means…

      EIFF was abysmally run for years, but it would still seem well night impossible to bankrupt an event that doesn’t last for two weeks a year and has zero overheads…

  5. I switched off after about an hour last night only to discover it had just won the Bafta. What do I know? Nothing we’ve not seen before though well directed though with an eye to visuals and a good screenplay. Not good enough for Best Film but then it was a very poor year.

    • You could say that the pandemic accelerated the process, but it’s been all downhill since the academies decided not to back cinema windows and treat streaming like it was cinema, lining their pockets in the process. It’s been a death spiral ever since…

  6. We watched this and Phil rates it highly though after 1917 I’m really all done with it. You know I don’t go to a cinema so Netflix et al are a good thing in my view, but I’m sad that for people who love that kind of experience it’s becoming a death march of it’s own.

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