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Margarethe von Trotta
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Jean Pierre Lefebvre
J. Léo Gagnon,
This is an English language film (made in America) adapted from a novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque. The film follows a group of German schoolboys, talked into enlisting at the beginning of World War 1 by their jingoistic teacher. The story is told entirely through the experiences of the young German recruits and highlights the tragedy of war through the eyes of individuals. As the boys witness death and mutilation all around them, any preconceptions about "the enemy" and the "rights and wrongs" of the conflict disappear, leaving them angry and bewildered. This is highlighted in the scene where Paul mortally wounds a French soldier and then weeps bitterly as he fights to save his life while trapped in a shell crater with the body. The film is not about heroism but about drudgery and futility and the gulf between the concept of war and the actuality. Written by
Michele Wilkinson, University of Cambridge Language Centre, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The film begins in a classroom. Outside, martial music is blaring and the professor inside the room is lecturing the boys about their duty to the Fatherland and encouraging them all to as a group in the German army at the outbreak of WWI. The film is exceptional in how it captures the enthusiasm and naiveté of the boys--as they imagine glory awaiting them after they enlist! Even in boot camp, the mood is light and the new recruits are excited about seeing their first action. This perfectly sets the stage for the actual war--not the sanitized or "fun" war of many films but the hellish and pointless mess that was WWI. The rest of the film is brutally honest and harsh and shows how the students die off one-by-one and the remaining students become more and more jaded and emotionally dead due to the fighting.
I love this film and strongly recommend it to anyone who considers themselves to be a film buff. Part of my love of the film is because it was made relatively shortly after the war and the uniforms, trucks, etc. all appear correct for the period. Many years later, a made for TV version of this film appeared with Ernest Borgnine and Richard Thomas. It, too, was excellent but also was perhaps a bit too polished and pretty--lacking some of the grit of the original. Great acting, direction and production all made this original THE best of the anti-war films of the 1920s and 30s.
Other similar great movies I strongly recommend are J'ACCUSE (French), WESTFRONT 1918 (German), THE BIG PARADE (USA--silent) and THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK (USA). All excel at portraying war in a truthful and non-glamorized manner--it's just a shame that their impact of the world as a whole was negligible--particularly in Germany--where Fascism would soon replace the anti-war sentiment of the book ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. In fact, his books and this film were banned once the Nazis came to power just a few years later.
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