How the “Quiet on the Western Front” craft team created the First World War

One of the most famous anti-war stories gets a 21st century makeover in Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The second adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel, Berger’s film tells the story of Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), a young German whose idealism is destroyed by the horrors of the First World War. While filming the Netflix film, which is now nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, cinematographer James Friend said he was aiming for a kind of “heightened naturalism.”

“We wanted it to be very naturalistic, which is sometimes very difficult to achieve, especially in terms of continuity, but we also wanted it to be like heightened naturalism,” Friend said. “We didn’t want it to look like a documentary, but we wanted it to feel like a documentary.”

Friend discussed his work on the film in a craft panel with IndieWire, which you can watch below. Composer Volker Bertelmann, sound designer Frank Kruse, and hair and makeup designer Heike Merker joined Friend for a conversation with IndieWire Awards Editor Marcus Jones. The four discussed working with Berger and making a modern film adaptation of Remarque’s story, following the acclaimed 1930 American version, the third film ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

So far this awards season, Berger’s “All Quiet” has been as much a powerhouse as the 1930 adaptation. At BAFTA, the film won 7 of the leading 14 nominations, including Best Director Berger, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film. Bertelmann, Friend and Kruse also won BAFTAs in their respective fields for their work on the film, while Merker was nominated for Best Hair and Makeup.

As the title suggests, “All Quiet on the Western Front” strongly contrasts the chaotic violence of war with quieter scenes, making Kruse’s sound design essential to the mood of the scenes. Kruse talked about how his soundscapes relied on in-scene elements to put the audience in Paul’s shoes.

“Every effect, or let’s say emotion, that we were trying to achieve was based on naturalistic sounds, and we tried to keep it organically, sounds that were already in the film,” Krause said. “We always try to challenge the learned expectations that audiences may have experienced from other films.”

Kruse worked closely with composer Bertelmann on the film. Speaking about his score, Bertelmann said that it was far different from his other scores due to the variety of music and tone required by the film.

“Usually I do either a ‘dark thriller’ type of music where there’s a bit of emotion, or a lighter film that doesn’t have as much darkness,” Bertelmann said. “This movie has very low power elements. And there are the very fragile highs that almost break, including the vocals and the chorus. And I would say that kind of range was very unusual for me.”

While working on the film, Merker told IndieWire that he focused on capturing the brutality of war with his makeup work, unlike how other war movie heroes are fresh-faced in their own images.

“When I was watching the other movies, sometimes I realized, ‘Oh my God, they’re at war, but they’re really, really clean,'” Merker said. “I don’t really feel like they’re cold or hungry or traumatized.”

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the full panel above.

IndieWire brings together the cast and creative teams of some of cinema’s most prestigious films to discuss the best art and craft of 2022’s blockbusters.

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