Monday, February 13, 2017

All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front is perhaps the first sound masterpiece to be made. The film seems to be another place of existence than most other films of the time, compare it to say Disraeli, one of its best picture competition, and this film seems of later era then. Now it does have a few tendencies, the performances are just tad broad early on yet they become much more comfortable soon afterwards, helped perhaps by the greatest character actor of the period, Louis Wolheim. The film though sets out to present war and its horrors, and it does that. The sounds, the images, the eagerness to present such brutality give an unforgiving portrait of the madness and terror of no man's land. The film presses further though in retaining a small scope of just few school boys from their path of "glory" which ends in a graveyard. Within that though it also conveys the power of propaganda as each is convinced by a speech that propels war as something you should hope to be part. One of the most effective elements of the film is it puts you in their shoes. You don't see the war until they do. You experience the strange shift as they enter war with their old friendly mail man turning into a vicious drill Sergeant, or when they find merely finding a meal to be one of the greatest challenges on the front line. Director Lewis Milestone grants the film the needed muck and grime in every moment. It does not shy away as we witness one man killing another. As grim as it is though Milestone grants respites that make the film all the more powerful. The infamous bayoneting moment is handled with an initial intensity that shifts to a haunting silence, as the man is forced to ponder what it is that he has done. The film captures a real sense of desolation, and what is pivotal is what is lost through it.

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