Update March 13: All Quiet on the Western Front is now the winner of 4 Oscars and 6 BAFTA awards including Best Film!
The Netflix remake of “All Quiet on the Western Front’ is as stunning as it is moving. With nine Oscar and fourteen BAFTA nominations, we were thrilled to chat with editor Sven Budelmann. Read on to learn about his experience working on the newest incarnation of the ultimate anti-war story.
Sven Budelmann. Image from @svenbudelmann
A Complex National History
Speaking to a German editor about the new production of AQWF feels like encroaching on a private and, at the same time, national shame. In our interview, Sven admitted to his first feelings of national pride arising only when Germany won the 2006 football World Cup. “This was the first time I saw a German flag on a car or hanging out of a window. This kind of patriotism doesn’t exist in Germany because we know what we did during these two World Wars. It is so deep within us.”
The issue is so raw, and the visuals are so harrowing. Consequently, German children can only watch these AQWF films once they reach 16. Sven encouraged his 13-year-old daughter’s school to let her watch it, but it was forbidden.
Perhaps the German productions were then part of catharsis for the nation as much as a warning from history of what fascism can wrought on the world. We are learning this lesson again with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Tale of 95 Years
A World War I German veteran, Erich Maria Remarque wrote the original novel All Quiet on the Western Front and published it in the German newspaper Vossische Zeitung in 1928. The book describes German soldiers’ extreme physical and mental trauma in war and their detachment from civilian life upon return.
The book was wildly successful, selling 2.5 million copies in 22 languages during its first 18 months in print. Things took a turn during WW2 when, together with the sequel The Road Back (1930), it was banned and burned in Nazi Germany.
Producers have adapted the book into three movie versions:
- The 1930 Academy Award-winning black-and-white classic
- The 1979 made-for-TV movie
- This recent 2022 Netflix production
1930 Oscars – Award To All Quiet On The Western Front by Our20thCentury.
Felix Kammerer as Paul Bäumer. Image from @Netflix
The team followed the central tenet of Remarque’s original story, shadowing 17-year-old Paul Bäumer; this time playing the action out on a grand feature film canvas with giant sets in an area north of Prague, Czech Republic. Sven admits that editing was as much about not getting in the way of a great script as it was about creating a rhythm that kept people invested in harrowing images without being overbearing.
“I was involved about 18 months before shooting, as the director Edward Berger wanted me to create a trailer for the Berlinale film festival to raise some money. The trailer was a mixture of peaceful images and violence, and the positive reaction gave us the idea that using those extremes was the way to make the film.”
Use of Light and Shade
This light and shade provided another level to the story and set the direction of the film. With this in mind, the cinematographer went to the Czech Republic and shot as many peaceful image combinations as he could find so they could use them in the edit.
“We controlled the dynamics between fighting and moments of silence. We thought that after an intense scene, raising the camera and showing a ‘gods’ view of the battlefield would suggest ‘look, the world is still turning while people are dying a few meters away’.”
This would not take away from the gravity of it all. Sven highlights a scene of Paul fighting and killing a French soldier in a bomb crater, sharing that the raw footage affected him. “Even the green screen and bladeless knife didn’t diminish the impact, thanks to Felix Kammerer’s wonderful acting. It was his first on-screen acting role.” The sheer brilliance of this film therefore depended on brutality and breakaways, for everyone from the edit suite to the cinema chairs.
From Shoot to Studio
Felix Kammerer as Paul Bäumer. Image from @Netflix
Shooting took place in February 2021. As Covid tore through Europe, Sven, confined to his Berlin studio, remained in constant communication with the director.
“He wanted calls every evening to check on the progress. That worked well and gave me direction for laying out the scenes. Obviously, this wasn’t the kind of movie to do some snappy cuts every two seconds. The shots were beautiful and spoke for themselves without too much cutting. The enormous preparation for these shots involved the DOP, James French, coming to Berlin for three months to produce a shot list.
“It was more than a storyboard, almost a plan from the beginning scene to the end, which included blocking the actors and the camera positions. This way, as we followed Paul into the trenches, you could shoot to the plan and not waste any shots—including close-ups, wide angles, and over-the-shoulder shots. We used almost every shot, which is amazing for such a large production. Only one scene depicting village locals jeering at young recruits did not provide the right tonality, so we left it out.
Preparing for battle
Masks on set for the COVID pandemic. Image from @Netflix
Organizing how they shot the battles was also thorough, so Sven felt it was easier to cut. “There are long tracking shots, so I didn’t have much to do. Still, you need to find the perfect moment to cut.”
Sven’s humility is disarming, but the fact is, and he admits it, that although the storyboard for the movie was almost sacrosanct, he didn’t stick to it while editing the film. Testament to his skill is that the director and DOP realized that 90% of what they ended up with was the storyboard anyway. He explains the ultimate skill of the editor: “The storyboard doesn’t show how long a shot should be and how to combine other scenes with planned ones. But I got there in the end, and the result was about the same.”
What do you think?
AQWF is nominated in nine Oscar categories, including best picture, best international feature, best cinematography, production design, visual effects, sound, makeup and hairstyling, original score and adapted screenplay. Will this 95-year old story triumph once more?
If winning 7 BAFTAs is anything to go by, chances are high. Watch producer Malte Grunert on the film’s 14 BAFTA nominations, which made it the joint most-nominated foreign-language film in the academy’s 76-year history.
‘Stunned And Honoured’ – Makers Of ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ by Reuters.
Either way, it’s keeping us glued to our screens!