All Quiet on the Western Front


tempo di lettura: 2 minuti

“Tacevano gli spari, nel grembo solitario

non dava suono che il Leno roco.

Sbocciava un razzo su lo stelo, fioco

lacrimava nell’aria.

Le notti chiare erano tutte un’alba”

(E. Montale, Valmorbia)

I am spending my Erasmus in Sarajevo, which is not exactly a high-tech capital. Paying with a card is practically impossible, and the university uses a blue plastic booklet to record my  marks. Various governments have made the city expand in the path that the river opens up between the mountains: the Ottoman city, the Austro-Hungarian quarter, the areas marked by Titoism. The city has a certain tranquility, as it does not have the spasm or grandeur of many capital cities. In the old city, Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand. One walks by the Latin Bridge, where the accident happened, and hardly realizes that in that very place a beat of history has changed the destiny of millions of hearts.

Princip’s gun is an odd combination of a modern tool and a nineteenth-century remnant: the stark shape of the 1900s and a rather old-fashioned decorative detail. The world on June 28, 1914 must have been in a similar condition. The majesty of romanticism combined with the minimalist taste of our later modernity is perfectly expressed by “Remains”, the most expressive and experimental track of the musical score of Oscar-winning movie “All Quiet on the Western Front”. 

“All Quiet on the Western Front” (2022) depicts a rather simple story, showing the horrific adventure of a young man, interpreted by Felix Kammerer, in the midst of the Western Front during the First World War. The movie is purposeful in pushing the story with apparently prosaic themes: the desire for glory of the young, the shattering of their hopes, the joy of comradeship, the horror of war. Such dynamics, combined with a remarkable sound apparatus and a continuous shift of situations, unleash powerful emotions all along the movie. I can say with confidence that showing the horror of war with simplicity, often without letting the words fill the void and making the viewer soak in the groans and uncalm silence of the battlefield, is a successful experiment. The portrayal of the negotiations to end the war, on the other hand, results too verbose in the mode and clearcutting in the content, while the power of the story lies in its ambiguity. The author of the book from which the story is taken, E. M. Remarque, opens it with the words “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession”, and it cannot be said that the movie always respects such a resolution.

The moon-like appearance of the battlefield, the bodies disturbingly torn by violence, the scabs of blood and mud in the face of the protagonist show how the World War was, for a great number of Europeans, the descent into another world. For the first time technicality was seen in its tremendous might by millions of people coming from rural backgrounds at best – as the well-crafted book L’officina della guerra clearly explains. In times of growing ecological interest, the movie offers an interesting suggestion concerning the European relationship with landscape. 

Sarajevo today shows the scars of the Yugoslav war more so than the World War. Bosnia Herzegovina is dramatically divided into ethnicities. The most compelling scene of the movie portrays a crude and moving encounter between the German protagonist and a French soldier. It seems so far from Sarajevo, where the European Union is often addressed as the “only hope” for Bosnia Herzegovina. It is, indeed, even further away seen from my Erasmus. 

While peace is certainly not a destiny, it is indeed a possibility. To embrace peace as the German and French soldiers did, eventually, at the end of the film is to open ourselves up to such a possibility, to glimpse something new, at last, on the Western Front. While seventy years later, in Europe, all is quiet yet again, on the Eastern Front, in Sarajevo, the air is crisp and vibrating with new sounds. “Hi!” My German friend, great-great-grandson of late enemies, just passed by. Time to go to class.

di Giovanni Cerboni

Frame from All Quiet on the Western Front


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