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Westfront 1918

January 19, 2018

Westfront 1918 (1930)
Director: G.W. Pabst
Actors: Gustav Diessl, Hans-Joachim Moebis, Hanna Hoessrich

Synopsis: The insanity of trench warfare as viewed from the German perspective in 1918.

Review: The forgotten master of German cinema (although he was actually born in Austria-Hungary and his birthplace is now part of the Czech Republic), G.W. Pabst, made one of the most powerful First World War dirges of all time with his absolutely mesmeric Westfront 1918.

Charting the lives of a group of German infantrymen on the the western front (hence the name) in the dying embers of the war, Pabst’s remarkable film endures today for two notable reasons. First, it communicates an almost proto-maturity in the way it deals with the irrelevance of nationality and the universality of the need for human dignity amid the squalid end-game of a very bloody, inhumane and merciless war (this message is very much resonant in today’s ultra-nationalistic European landscape). Second, it really is an absurdly skilled film cinematographically. Putting paid to any belief that ‘early’ cinema could be deemed primitive, Pabst’s command of the expressionistic potential of his chiaroscuro cinematography, plus his bravura use of epic tracking shots, really did imagine the trenches as an unimaginable hell on earth. That, and one of the finest closing scenes of any war film (or for that matter, any film) going, make this a necessary pit-stop for anyone with an interest in depictions of the First World War on screen and in discovering an underappreciated cinematic master. (January 2018)

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