Paul Bäumer ( Felix Kammerer ), Albert Kropp ( Aaron Hilmer ), Frantz Müller ( Moritz Klaus ), and Ludwig Behm ( Adrian Grünewald ) are overjoyed when they make their way to the front. There they want to fight against the French troops and represent their fatherland with honor. At least that’s how they imagined it beforehand. Once there, however, they find the combat far less heroic. Day after day, men die in the trenches without the German army making any significant progress in this way. But in the experienced Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky ( Albrecht Schuch) you will find a mentor who will give you useful tips on how to survive everyday wartime. Months later the fighting is still going on, and the German State Secretary Matthias Erzberger ( Daniel Brühl ) is faced with a difficult task. After all, everyone knows that the war can no longer be won. But the price of a truce is high…
It has now become a tradition: every year in late summer or autumn, Netflix shows films at larger film festivals where there is the great hope of gaining a reputation and ideally one or two film awards. 2022 is no exception. The streaming service opened the Venice Film Festival with White Noise, where the Netflix titles Athena, Bardo, and Blonde also ran in competition. At the Toronto International Film Festival, A Jazzman’s Blues, Wendell & Wild, and also Nothing New in the West made their debuts. The latter, of course, doesn’t quite have the international appeal that Hollywood star-filled titles have. After all, the film was submitted to the Oscars as a German entry before the premiere – so there is a lot of trusts.
The distrust was great in advance. Is there really a need for a new adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name? After all, the film adaptation, which was released a year later, is considered an absolute classic. At the time it received the Oscar for best film, and in 1997 the American Film Institute counted it among the 100 most important US films of all time. Big footprints, then, in which director and co-writer Edward Berger ( All My Loving) wants to stop there. At the same time, one could be curious as to what a modern version of the book might look like. In addition, although the German author Remarque described his own experiences during the First World War, there has not yet been a German film adaptation. In fact, the Hollywood version wasn’t initially available in this country either, as the National Socialists were anything but impressed with it.
It wouldn’t be any different in the remake. This time too, the initial euphoria turns into disillusionment and horror. The war is not only particularly brutal. It’s also particularly pointless: while people keep dying, on both sides of the front line, nothing significant changes. Nothing is progressing. Berger savors this senselessness and the massive waste of human life, even beyond the pain threshold. An early scene in Nothing New in the West is almost symbolic, in which Paul is given his uniform, and inside is the name of another soldier. He dutifully reports this without realizing what the name means. The audience did, seeing during the introduction how equipment from the fallen soldiers is being reused – the deaths of the men are part of the cycle.
And the music already announces that the audience has to be prepared for a lot. Where in other films the score tends to be very dramatic in order to put the viewers in the right mood, the German composer Volker Bertelmann, also known by the stage name Hauschka, relies on a brute, booming sound that one tends to prefer in a horror film would suspect. Visually, on the other hand, shades of gray dominate in Nothing New in the West. Just when Berger takes us to the trenches, the world changes into a parallel world shaped by mud and dirt, from which all life and color have disappeared. Like so much else in the film, it’s not overly subtle. But it’s very effective.
In general, the anti-war film is one that leaves a great impression and should therefore be seen on the big screen as far as possible. In contrast to the novel, which still shows a world outside of the war with scenes at school or during home leave, the perspective here is clearly narrowed. Only the short excursions to the peace negotiations and the withdrawn General Friedrichs ( Devid Striesow ) cause major breaks. Otherwise, there is no escape for any of the men trapped in the war machine. Brief moments of happiness, when a letter arrives from home or something delicious is on the table, cannot hide how dark and bleak the film is. Even if nothing new in the west Ultimately doesn’t have much to say and hardly provides any character traits for its own characters despite a running time of two and a half hours: In the end you are so depressed by the sight that you don’t have the strength to leave the cinema or the couch.