The German version of In the West, nothing new well placed for the Oscars

The German version of In the West, nothing new well placed for the Oscars

When the new adaptation ofIn the west, nothing is newa pacifist novel about the horror of the First World War, hit the screens in September, nothing suggested that this German-language film was going to become a serious contender for the Oscars.

This feature film produced by netflix had to overcome the barrier of subtitling with international audiences, and embraces a fatalism at odds with the glorious heroism of American war films. Its director Edward Berger therefore does not hide his astonishment at seeing In the west, nothing is new in the running for nine Oscars, including the most prestigious, that of best picture. A first for a feature film in German.

Were we surprised? Of course“, he confides. “You can’t count on that stuff.“Especially since Netflix had an armada provided this year to compete in the Oscarsincluding for example the Latin American historical fresco bardo or the inspired detective movie Glass Onion: a tale at loggerheads.

But it’s finally In the west, nothing is newthe third screen adaptation of the eponymous novel by the German Erich Maria Note, who emerged from the trenches to establish himself as a favorite. The film details the cruel disillusionment of young soldiers exalted by German nationalism, confronted on the French front with the atrocities of the “big butcherfrom 14-18. “We wanted to make a very German film, but we’re not doing it for the country“, explains Edward Berger. “I am not a patriot.»


Shooting in the mother tongue of the book was obvious for the director. This makes it possible to havea certain authenticityand to give a deeper insight into the “shame, responsibility and guiltfelt by many Germans after the two world wars of the 20the century.

If Netflix had demanded to work in English, this German-born Swiss would have “immediately said no“. But the question arises less and less, especially since the streaming giant has made international hits with South Korean series. Squid Game or spanish Money Heist .

With its typically German perspective, the film magnifies the pacifist message of the novel. In a particularly bitter war of positions, which caused millions of deaths, there is no lyricism: everyone is crushed by the great ax of History. “As Germans we expect (…) that there are no heroes. You can’t have people who succeed in their mission. It’s almost impossible for a soldier to survivesums up Edward Berger.

The director was surprised by the reaction of the Anglo-Saxon public at the end of his film, where one of the key characters is brutally pierced by a bayonet.

The timing is far from unexpected, given the novel’s fame and the deadly toll of the Great War. But at the film’s international premiere in Toronto last year, “there was a big shock in the audience“says the director. “In America, we are used to the figure of the hero. We want him to do well, and we cling to the hope that the hero will change the world.»

Reserved German critic

Paradoxically, the international triumph of the film contrasts with the rather reserved reception from critics in Germany. Several influential newspaper columnists have notably criticized Mr. Berger for deviating from the novel. Sold in 50 million copies, banned by the Nazis, who burned it in the auto-da-fés organized in 1933, the book has become a sacred work across the Rhine.

The film introduces new scenes, notably depicting the tense talks between the German delegation and the inflexible French generals before the armistice. It also omits a part in which one of its war-traumatized heroes returns home on furlough, and realizes that he no longer finds his place in society.

I felt empowered to make these changes“, because “why do the sameretorts Edward Berger, claiming his right toto observe, to criticize“. The director is now waiting for March 12 to find out if his version will be entitled to the same honors as the most renowned American adaptation. In 1930, Lewis Milestone’s film had won the Oscar for best film and that of best director.

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