"You still think it's beautiful to die for your country. The first bombardment taught us better. When it comes to dying for country, it's better not to die at all." - Paul Bäumer.
In 1914, a classroom-full of German students are persuaded to enlist in the army to fight in the recently declared first world war. The professor gives a lecture in which he emphasises the importance of them doing their duty for the fatherland, exploiting their naivety and glorifying the war experience. Naturally, the majority of boys sign up without hesitation, whilst applying peer pressure to those not so sure. 'All Quiet on the Western Front' follows the story of the group of boys as they progress through training and into the trenches where they find out how harrowing the war effort really is.
|The boys celebrate in the classroom after enlisting.|
The trench warfare is depicted with horrific realism. One can only imagine just how bad it would have been to be there. There is a stark difference in attitude between the seasoned soldiers and the newbies. Some of the schoolboys would burst into hysterics, have nightmares and regularly break down. And it is easy to see why. Even for a film from the 30's the explosions and gunfire looked and sounded quite genuine, considering. One particular scene comes to mind, when a soldier crouches down and holds onto a wire, before being engulfed in an explosion. As the smoke clears, all that is left is his hands. I can imagine that would have produced shocked gasps from audiences back then.
There are a some touching scenes, mostly including Paul, one of the protagonist schoolboys. When visiting one of his friends who has been injured, he has to comfort and reassure him - something which is very difficult to do under the circumstances. When on leave, he also has to do the same with his ill mother. He has an emotional monologue with an enemy soldier who he has fatally wounded. Is was difficult to watch as Paul came to terms with the fact that he has ended a life similar to his own. In the dead man's possession is a picture of his wife and children. Upon finding it, Paul breaks down and vows to inform them of what he had done.
|Paul speaks to his victim.|
The ending of the film was very effective. It brought to mind the finale of 'Blackadder Goes Forth' in its simplicity and sheer powerfulness. I'm not normally that fussed about war films, but this was very good.
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