With masterpieces such as “Metropolis”, “Nosferatu” and “M – A City Seeks a Mörder”, Germany was once considered the leading film nation in the world in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the dark chapter of National Socialism quickly put an end to this. This was not only due to the disgustingly dull propaganda vehicles of the regime, but also to the expulsion or emigration of many brilliant filmmakers such as director Fritz Lang or legendary actor Marlene Dietrich, all of whom fled to Hollywood in the USA.

After the end of the Second World War, Germany lay fallow in terms of film technology. The former status as a leading film nation was completely lost – and actually is until today. Works such as “The Tin Drum”, “The Boat”, “Der Untergang” or “The Lives of Others” received international attention. At the same time, they corresponded to a cliché of the German post-war film situation. Either we can only make films about the Second World War or the GDR – or embarrassingly shallow comedies. Unfortunately, exceptions like “Toni Erdmann” only confirm this rule. The reputation and importance of films from the land of poets and thinkers is correspondingly low.

But that could change now. The German Netflix film “Nothing New in the West” has caused an international sensation in recent months and has been showered with awards. The anti-war drama finally celebrated the climax of its triumphal procession at the Oscars ceremony on March 12, 2023. There, “Nothing New in the West” was awarded four trophies from a spectacular nine nominations – including Best International Film. Such a success has not yet been achieved by a plant from Germany.

But how could that happen? The answer is quite simple – and ironic: the creators of “Nothing New in the West” remembered typically German qualities.

That’s why “Nothing New in the West” is so successful

First of all, the basis for the film’s success is provided by the template. The novel “Nothing New in the West” from 1929 was written by the German writer Erich Maria Remarque and is not considered a classic of world literature for nothing. This is mainly due to the timeless story of the book. From the perspective of the German soldier Paul Bäumer, who at the age of 17 volunteered for the trench battles of the First World War, it tells an impressive story about the senselessness and the horrors of war and its consequences. So, with regard to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the story of Nothing New in the West is more than timely and relevant at the moment.

The story unleashes significantly more power in the Netflix adaptation than the first film adaptation from the USA from 1930. As an (almost) purely German production, there is no getting around “Nothing New in the West” as a reappraisal of Germany’s dark past to see. Maybe that’s why it seems that everyone involved in the film really gives their all. Edward Berger’s direction and screenplay (despite some serious differences from the book) are simply terrific, as is Volker Bertelmann’s film music. The same applies to the splendid acting performances of the leading actors Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Edin Hasanović, Daniel Striesow and Daniel Brühl. With the Netflix version of “Nothing New in the West” everyone is aware of the responsibility that rests on their shoulders. And that encourages the whole crew to perform at their best.

Thematically, “Nothing New in the West” may be on familiar and clichéd terrain for a German film: the dark past in which two devastating world wars began. Superficially, that’s true. But unlike in films like “Downfall” or “The Lives of Others,” in which the Nazis and the Stasi are the obvious evil, in “Nothing New in the West” the evil is the war. There are no raised index fingers here, no clichéd black-and-white thinking, no blatant villains. No, here there are personal destinies, emotional stories and the horrors of war. Such complexity, multi-layeredness and freshness is a rarity for a war film from Germany – despite the typically German subject matter.

What “Nothing New in the West” also benefits from is its typically German sobriety. While war films from Hollywood drip with pathos, patriotism and show value, this is not the case with German representatives of this genre. In this country, a sober, reserved staging prevails. That may seem sluggish and boring at times, but it fits perfectly with “Nothing New in the West”. Because it is precisely this clarity and coldness that conveys the theme of the film perfectly.

“Nothing new in the West” is typically German – and that’s why it’s so good

So will “Nothing New in the West” change the international image of German cinema? The Netflix adaptation definitely has potential. It impressively shows the qualities of German film and that in capable hands, with a good story and strong actors, they can also inspire people outside of Germany. One can only wish for those responsible in this country to have more trust, dare more, try out more and spend more money on well-made films than on the millionth romantic comedy from the assembly line. Then Germany could once again become a global player in the film sector – without pretending.

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German filmmaking was also honored at the Academy Awards with four “Oscars” for “Nothing New in the West”, including best international film. The big winner of the evening, however, was the ludicrous multiverse spectacle “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, which was honored, among other things, as best film. Its stars also provided emotional highlights.

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Peggy McColl

Mentor l NY Times Bestselling Author. Hi, I'm Peggy McColl, and I'm here to deliver a positive message to you!

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