(Anti-)war film reloaded: “Nothing new in the West”? Are you kidding, are you serious when you say that!

The contents in the “archives” were created and posted by the previous owners of this website. We are not responsible for any misleading or incorrect content that is posted here.


(Anti-)war film reloaded
“Nothing new in the West”? Are you kidding, are you serious when you say that!

By Volker Probst

The war in Ukraine is currently making us look to the east with horror. The “Nothing New in the West” remake looks the other way, looking back over 100 years. But the material has not lost any of its topicality.

In this country, “Nothing New in the West,” written by Erich Maria Remarque, is probably the classic of anti-war literature par excellence. And that despite the fact that the “novel”, as the work written in 1928 has only been called since 1957, is really only a sober description of the war.

In his book, Remarque not only incorporated his own experiences as a soldier of the German Reich on the western front in the First World War (1914-1918). He also incorporated the reports and diary entries of other frontline fighters into his story, leading the fictional Paul Bäumer from the first-person perspective.

The term “novel” is therefore very appropriate. However, this does not detract from the reality of the description. At best, this was denied by the Nazis, who burned thousands of copies of “Nothing New in the West.” For everyone else, however, the book is a constant reminder of the horrors of armed conflict, especially in times of industrial warfare and weapons of mass destruction.

Through German glasses

Remarque’s factual account of the horrific events in the trenches, bomb craters, and poison gas clouds alone is enough to elevate “Nothing New in the West” from a war to an anti-war narrative. It didn’t need ideology or a raised index finger. A circumstance that offered conscientious objectors shelter in the Federal Republic of conscientious objectors. Referencing Remarque’s novel was relatively innocuous and therefore belonged to the standard repertoire of denial.

“Nothing New in the West” has already been filmed twice. The first time actually in 1930. With resounding success: not only director Lewis Milestone received an Oscar for his work. The strip was also awarded “Best Film” at the time. The second film version dates from 1979. Although intended only as a TV production, this adaptation, directed by Delbert Mann, also received positive reviews and a Golden Globe for best TV movie.

What Milestone and Mann have in common: They were both American directors and their films were Anglo-Saxon productions. In Germany, however, no one had dared to interpret the novel from their own country on the big screen. Until now. Edward Berger, who in the past worked as a director on “Tatort” or the critically acclaimed series “Deutschland 83”, has first started staging “Nothing New in the West” through German glasses for the cinema and the Netflix streaming service.

Felix Kammerer makes feature film debut

Berger bases his story only loosely on Remarque’s template. The film differs greatly from the novel in many places. This is also because he does not limit himself to the subjective perspective of the soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer). For example, Berger turns his attention to the military command camp, where General Friedrich (Devid Striesow) wants to continue the war, or to the diplomatic talks about ending hostilities in a train car near Compiègne in France. But even when you watch German negotiator Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) literally smash his tough Allies opponent to pieces, one thing remains clear: the wounded, maimed and dead continue to pile up on the battlefields outside.


Daniel Brühl stars as German diplomat Matthias Erzberger.

(Photo: Reiner Bajo/Netflix)

Because of course the horrors of war that Bäumer and his comrades experience are also central to Berger’s film adaptation. Here too, the director remains close to his protagonists. He does not focus on drawing the great battle image, but brings out individual suffering and terror. Thus, he almost completely ignores the subject of the poison gas war. For example, the scene described by Remarque, in which Bäumer lies in a hopper with a slowly dying Frenchman, is given space for eleven intense minutes.

Aside from Striesow and Brühl, the film has a moderately well-known cast. Not having an overcrowded star cast distracting from the immersion in the story is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. The spearhead is the Austrian Felix Kammerer in the lead role of Paul Bäumer. For the 27-year-old, who works in the Vienna Burgtheater, among other places, it is his feature film debut.

German contribution to the Oscar

And that is just as impressive as the film itself, which manages to keep the viewer uncomfortably in his seat for almost two and a half hours. The interplay between James Friend’s intensive use of camera and the deliberately disturbing film music by Volker Bertelmann also contributes to this. All in all, the German reinterpretation of “Nothing New in the West” is a compelling anti-war film that doesn’t have to hide from previous versions. It is not without reason that the film will be the German contribution to the upcoming Oscars.


Ultimately, death and destruction are the only balance.

(Photo: Reiner Bajo/Netflix)

Although this story revolves around a conflict that is now more than 100 years old, it seems more relevant than ever against the background of the war in Ukraine. A war of aggression that was forced on the defending Ukraine and from which there seems to be only a military way out at the moment. The message that “Nothing New in the West” conveys and underlies Berger’s film is still important and forever: wars ultimately only have losers on all sides.

“Nothing New in the West” is now in German cinemas and can be seen on Netflix from October 28.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *