Similar to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the horrendous on the frontlines between Germany during the First World War had this in common, with all parties declaiming that “God is on our side”. Really?
In Berger’s hands, the original novel (1929) by Erich Maria Remarque, is given a sympathetic and honest treatment, even as the brutal battle scenes hold nothing back as the men on both “sides” (aren’t we all on the human side?) are brutally slaughtered, maimed, gassed and burned alive. It’s hard to watch, but one can only imagine that same sort of scenes are recurring daily at the “front line” of Ukraine’s Soeldar.
17-year-old Paul, the central character begins and a bunch of his pals happily join the army with the unbounded naivete and romantic view of embarking on an honourable adventure—blissfully unaware that their uniforms are recycled from others careers are forever over. Austrian Felix Kammerer delivers a finely nuanced performance on his journey “let’s beat the bastards” to the deadly realization that wars always end without real winners, only the families of all sides wondering why their loved ones perished in the fight. The nowhere near the front lines powers that be are seldom held to full account, before retiring to their country homes, taking care that the servants don’t poison them.
Volker Bertlemann’s—literally—explosive score (notably the low-pitched electronic “growls”) set the stage and share the pain as the trenches flood, the bodies fall and the thick mud becomes the last bed of the heroic young who discover far too late just what they have signed up for.
When the armistice is finally declared (following the cowardly Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdication), the fighting stops but the despair forever remains. We can only hope that Putin will suffer the same fate. JWR