GW Pabst / Germany / 1930 / 96mins
Available on dual-format Blu-ray and DVD
Best remembered for the 1929 silent classic Pandora’s Box (starring Louise Brooks’ famous hair-do) Georg Wilhelm Pabst was a pioneer of early sound pictures. The rowdiness of an inn with German soldiers on furlough opens the movie – soldiers are instantly real people not merely cannon fodder. While World War II films are almost always heroic (think of this year’s Dunkirk), First World War stories major on the pointlessness of war.
Westfront 1918 tells of life in the trenches from the German side where there is the same filth and futility as the allies experienced. The mud, the dugouts in danger of collapse, menacing clouds of mustard gas, explosions, sniper fire and the wailing invalided soldiers: all are here. With a limited budget Pabst offers a faultless recreation of time and place. His pioneering use of mobile camera sweeps over the trenches, and the sheer exhaustion of the war of attrition is captured well. And he doesn’t flinch. In one scene the hero walks passed fellow soldiers making wooden crosses for the graves of the fallen. Despite a few expressionist touches this is a realistic movie made at a time when Hitler was on the rise and about to set the whole cycle turning again.
The movie may lack the poetry of the altogether more sentimental All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) but it’s an immensely powerful indictment against war. The disc offers a double bill with Pabst’s 1931 anti-war classic Kameradschaft in which French and Germans combine forces during a mining accident.