One of cinema's greatest statements on the absurdity of war screens in a 35mm print. Info
The legendary 1930 World War I film All Quiet On The Western Front, based on Erich Maria Remarque's novel, remains an essential achievement of anti-war art. The film's innovative sound design alone makes for a disorienting experience, one that director Lewis Milestone enhances with his visual approach. The central, anti-climactic battle scene arrives with little forewarning, and drills the viewer into a hypnotic trauma, as we lose track of the powerless protagonist, Paul Baumer (Lew Ayres), in explosions and fog. You can't even tell which direction the camera faces, and the opposed bodies blend together. Amidst the sea of dying boys, Louis Wolheim's depiction of the grizzled veteran Stanislaus Katczinsky remains a testament to humanity barely scraping by, as the war-ridden man cares for the teenage soldiers while barely surviving himself.
In their intermittent dialogues in the film's few moments of lucidity, the soldiers discuss nationalism as a total absurdity, an illusion that exists only in the speeches of proselytizers like Professor Kantorek (Arnold Lucy). The movie begins with the professor's declaration that it is good to die for one's country, leading the schoolboys off towards boot camp, and then the front lines, where they are slowly picked off by bullets or barbed wire, or ground down into isolation and madness. For nothing. The idealistic schoolboys' performances begin as if they know they're in a patriotic war movie, but all degrade into silence and brooding. The film ends before the war does, leaving the audience with only the corpses and the endless, cyclical monstrosity of meaningless competition. —Reid Kurkerewicz