Claudia Roth: “Loudest cry against the war”


Nine Oscar nominations: “Nothing New in the West” is not only a war drama, but also shows the possibilities of art to fight terror. Ines Pohl met the makers at Villa Aurora in Los Angeles.

Group photo in Los Angeles: The film crew of “Nothing New on the West”

This has never happened before. That a German film was not only nominated for nine Oscars, but also in the supreme discipline “Best Film”. The German artist community was correspondingly excited at the pre-reception for “Nothing New in the West” on Saturday morning (March 11) at the Villa Aurora in the hills above Los Angeles. It's hard to imagine a better place to celebrate this very film. Or as Claudia Roth, Minister of State for Culture and Humanities responsible for German film funding, put it in her speech: “Here we come full circle”. 

Villa Aurora: Center for refugees from Germany

Martha and Lion Feuchtwanger, Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, bought the property in 1943 and turned it into a center for refugees from Germany. Berthold Brecht came and went, Thomas Mann as well as Hanns Eisler, who is said to have played Mozart on the opening night.

< p>Claudia Roth talks to the actor Albrecht Schucht in the Villa Aurora

Erich Maria Remarque was also a regular guest in the stately home. And somehow his spirit was palpable on that rainy Oscars-eve morning celebrating the third film adaptation of his anti-war drama, Nothing New on the West.  

First film in German

This film adaptation, directed by Edward Berger and starring well-known German-speaking actors such as Daniel Brühl and Felix Kammerer, is the first version in German, the language in which Remarque wrote this classic of world literature. Those who have claimed to date that a film in German has a hard time gaining world fame have been taught a lesson in the past few weeks. With nine Oscar nominations, the production is one of the top favorites in the fight for the coveted trophies. He has already won seven awards at the British film festival Bafta. And in doing so, he broke a record.

Director Edward Berger doesn't yet know how his film will fare at the Oscars

Terrible topicality

This is due to the quality of the production. But also because of the terrible topicality of the topic. Ian Stokwell, the screenwriter, sums it up like this: “If we look at the pictures from Ukraine, it looks like it's from our film, which was set 100 years ago. We still fighting us from the trenches. And nothing would make us happier if it weren't for this horrible topicality. But it seems we haven't learned anything from the past.”

Oscar tensions< /h2>

European project

What also makes the production so modern is not only the cooperation with Netflix, which offers financial opportunities that would otherwise be unthinkable in Germany. It is a deeply European production. In addition to Germans, Swiss and Brits, there are Austrians, large parts were filmed in the Czech Republic. In the country that was attacked twice by German soldiers. The film is an artistic collaboration that shows how deadly it can be when more and more states drift back into nationalistic resentment and sacrifice their own short-term interests in search of the greatest common good. And also in the middle of Europe. 

Building bridges

Director Edward Berger describes a scene that shows how working together can build bridges. During filming, Felix Kammerer, alias Paul Bäumer, lies in the mud, collapsed, stunned, and shaken by fits of crying.

Soldiers fight for centimeters on the western front in World War I (scene from “Nothing New in the West”)

The intense work on the set means he has to repeat the shot over and over again until the director is satisfied. His acting, the power of the scene is so intense that the British cameraman eventually weeps along with him. “The cameraman,” says Berger, “is a Brit whose grandfather fought in World War II and taught him to hate Germans as a child.”

On the verge of the bearable

But “Nothing new in the West” has nothing forgiving about it. There are no heroes to identify with. Unlike in anti-war dramas like Spielberg's Saving Private Rian, there is no consolation, no hope at the end. The film pushes the viewer to the edge of the bearable. Or as Claudia Roth puts it: “It's the loudest cry against war.”

At a time when war is being waged again in the heart of Europe. And it looks as if this war in the Ukraine could also develop into a bitter trench warfare, in which the warmongers are willing to accept death and misery for the fight for a few centimetres.

“Im West nothing new” is as ruthless as it is real. It is still unclear whether he will win at all and in which categories, when the Californian sun finally clears the fog over Villa Aurora. The view into the distance is good.