In Edward Berger’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” one of the most famous anti-war stories gets a 21st century makeover. The second adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, Berger’s film tells the story of Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), a young German man whose idealism is destroyed by the horrors of the First World War. In shooting the Netflix film, now a Best Picture nominee at the Oscars, cinematographer James Friend said he aimed for a sort of “enhanced naturalism.”
“We wanted it to be very naturalistic, which is sometimes very hard to achieve, especially from a sort of continuity perspective, but we also wanted it to be sort of like enhanced naturalism,” Friend said. “We didn’t want it to look like a documentary, but we wanted it to feel like a documentary.”
Friend spoke about his work on the film in a crafts panel with IndieWire, which you can watch below. Joining Friend in conversation with IndieWire awards editor Marcus Jones were composer Volker Bertelmann, sound designer Frank Kruse, and hair and makeup designer Heike Merker. The foursome discussed collaborating with Berger and bringing Remarque’s story to a modern film adaptation, after the acclaimed 1930 American version, the third movie ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
So far in the awards season, Berger’s “All Quiet” has been just as much a powerhouse as the 1930 adaptation. At the BAFTAs, the film received 7 awards out of a leading 14 nominations, including Best Director for Berger, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film. Bertelmann, Friend, and Kruse also picked up BAFTAs in their respective fields for their work on the film, while Merker received a nomination for Best Hair and Makeup.
As its title implies, “All Quiet on the Western Front” heavily contrasts the chaotic violence of the war with quieter scenes, making the sound design from Kruse essential to the mood of the scenes. Kruse spoke about how his soundscapes relied on elements from within the scenes, in order to place the audience in Paul’s shoes.
“All the effects, or let’s say the emotion we try to implement, were based on naturalistic sounds and trying to keep it organic, and from sounds that already lived in the film,” Krause said. “We always try to go against, I would say, learned expectations that audience might have experienced from other films.”
Kruse worked closely on the film with composer Bertelmann. Discussing his score, Bertelmann said it was far different from any of his other scores, due to the variety of music and tone that the film required.
“Normally, I’m either doing ‘dark thriller’ type of music, where there’s a little bit of emotion in there, or I’m doing a lighter movie that has not so much darkness,” Bertelmann said. “In this film, there’s very low, powerful elements in there. And then there’s very fragile high elements that are nearly breaking, including the voices and the choir. And I would say this kind of range was for me very unusual.”
Merker, in working on the film, told IndieWire that her focus was on capturing the brutality of war through her makeup work, in contrast to how fresh-faced other war movie heroes look in their respective pictures.
“By watching all those other movies, sometimes I realized, ‘Oh, my God, they are in a war, but they are very, very clean,'” Merker said. “I don’t really feel that they’re cold or hungry or they are traumatized.”
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the full panel above.
IndieWire’s Consider This Conversations bring together the cast and creative team members of cinema’s most prestigious films to discuss some of the best art and craft in the film productions of 2022.
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