Never before has a German film won as much as this at the Oscars in Los Angeles Netflix-Production “In the west nothing new”. Edward Berger’s two-and-a-half-hour anti-war epic won four categories at the world’s most important film awards.
With a sensational nine nominations, the literary adaptation won the trophies for music, camera, set design and best international film in Hollywood on Monday night.
“What I think is incredibly beautiful – that there are four Oscars. This is of course more than we ever hoped for. We hoped for one,” says director Berger after the Oscar gala, which this time took place on an open stage without a slap in the face. But for this she brought, for example, the leading actress Oscar for the first time to an Asian: Michelle Yeoh for “Everything Everywhere All at Once”.
Daniel Brühl: “It has never happened before”
“Nothing New in the West” tells of the horrors of the First World War from the perspective of a young soldier. 17-year-old Paul (played by Austrian Felix Kammerer) proudly moves to the western front with his friends. In 1917, however, this had long since petered out in a trench warfare. In the trenches of northern France, the violence of war hits Paul and his comrades with full force. Instead of celebrating victories, the young men fight for survival.
The film had previously won seven Bafta awards in London. It is impressive what honor the film from England and the USA is given: “It has never happened before. It’s a piece of film history,” enthused actor Daniel Brühl even before the Oscars. He plays Matthias Erzberger, a German politician fighting for a ceasefire.
After the American film adaptation, which won two Oscars in 1930, director Berger created the first German-language film adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel. The last time a German film was so much in the spotlight abroad was probably 1983, when Wolfgang Petersen’s “Das Boot” was nominated for six Oscars. The anti-war film about the Second World War didn’t win a single one.
Most recently, in 2007, a German production took home the Oscar for best international film (at that time still “best non-English language film”) with the Stasi drama “The Lives of Others”.
“Nothing New in the West” is drastic and brutal. You see many ways of dying. People burn in flamethrowers, suffocate in poison gas. In a battle scene, a bleeding soldier dies with dirt in his mouth. The Berlin make-up artist Heike Merker made edible soil from crushed biscuits and muesli, colored with food pigments.
The camera (Oscar winner James Friend) glides over the mud of the trench, is very close to the faces of the soldiers. Then again she hovers over the events, showing us the battlefields strewn with corpses from above. And in between nature shots and stillness – sunlight shining through winter trees, a babbling brook.
The bone-chilling film music by the excellent composer Volker Bertelmann alias Hauschka will stay in your memory. A three-tone, darkly distorted harmonium melody runs through the film as a motif.
“Nothing New in the West” had already been shot in 2021
While the drama was also criticized in Germany for its focus on monumental imagery and the many deviations from the literary original by Erich Maria Remarque, “Nothing New in the West” is a hit abroad.
Distribution via Netflix also contributed to this. The film is the fourth most successful of all non-English language productions on the streaming service. And the statistics only refer to the first four weeks after publication.
The success of this anti-war film certainly also has something to do with the current war situation in Ukraine – even if “Nothing New in the West” was shot in 2021 and shows a war that cannot be compared politically with the current one. However, given the increasingly rigid front line in Ukraine, parallels are increasingly drawn to the type of warfare seen in Nothing New in the West.
But the Oscar night is a reminder that German filmmakers and film technicians are generally valued abroad. Perhaps, and this is the hope of many, it won’t be another 16 years before a German film brings at least one of the coveted golden boys to Germany.