All Quiet on the Western Front director responds to native critics: ‘Germans are always sceptical of ambition’
All Quiet on the Western Front has put the proverbial cat among the pigeons at this year’s film awards season.
The German-language adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 anti-war novel was released on Netflix last October to little fanfare.
However, the film swept last night’s (19 February) Bafta Awards, picking up wins in seven of the 14 categories it was nominated in, including Best Film, making it the most highly decorated non-English language film in Bafta history.
At the Oscars, All Quiet is nominated for a further nine awards, making it the second-most nominated film this year.
It’s fair to say then, that the film has been well-received in Britain and the US, however, it did not receive quite such a warm welcome in its native Germany.
Many native critics were unhappy with director Edward Berger’s adaptation, which changed elements from the book – Germany’s best-selling novel of all time.
Munich-based broadsheet Süddeutsche Zeitung suggested that the book’s reputation had been abused to create “Oscar-bait”.
“One-hundred and forty-eight minutes of blockbuster-compatible war kitsch is being slapped with a title that is internationally known and guarantees prestige and good sales. Maybe even an Oscar,” the critic seethed.
“The inner plot, the brains of the story, have been removed by Edward Berger and his scriptwriters and replaced with a Hollywood programme,” said Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
The tabloid Bild wrote: “[Berger’s] version of Erich-Maria Remarque’s classic is a piece of indescribable impudence. It takes a considerable portion of ignorance, disrespect and Oscar-lust to mess up a masterpiece in such a fashion, to pulverise its content and story so mercilessly.”
In an interview with The Independent, Berger had a curt retort to the criticisms, saying: “Germans are always sceptical of ambition. Whenever you try something a little bit different than the norm, they get worried.”
He also pushed back on the notion that all reviews about the film had been negative, as The Guardian had suggested, adding: “I think the reception overall was very, very positive in Germany, especially from audiences.
“But of course, we had also critical reviews, you can't please everyone and that’s totally fine.”
The director, previously known for TV drama adaptations like The Terror, Patrick Melrose and Your Honor, concluded by saying he doesn’t read any reviews after learning “very early” that “the good reviews make you vain and the bad reviews are a bit painful”.
All Quiet on the Western Front is streaming now on Netflix.