It looks like it’s a forward march into Oscars season with the heavily accoladed war-drama All Quiet on the Western Front. Following its impressive 14 nomination count at the BAFTAs in almost all major categories, the film’s director Edward Berger and producer Malte Grunert now sound off to the tune of nine total Oscar nominations for: Best Picture, International Feature Film, Cinematography, Music (Original Score), Production Design and Make-up and Hairstyling.
The harrowing anti-war film, based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name, follows a German battalion of spirited young men as they experience the atrocities of war while battling the French on the frontline. During The Hamden Journal’s conversation with Berger and Grunert on Tuesday morning to talk about the film’s multiple nominations, Berger had this to say: “It’s a momentous moment for me the fact that, and I don’t use this word lightly because Germany has a problem with the word ‘proud’ because of its history. And so I always have a very difficult time using that word. But in this case, I’m really proud of all the people who got nominated for the film, the effects, makeup, camera, production design, the entire crew, and at the BAFTAs. So that just means a lot that it was really like every team member worked so hard, and I don’t think I’ve ever made a movie where they contributed so much to the final result.”
In our conversation below Berger and Grunert talk about overcoming the fear of adapting such a famous work, the historical connection to old Hollywood, and what awards season means to them.
DEADLINE: Where were you when you found out about the nomination?
EDWARD BERGER: I was on set, and the crew was gracious enough to take a 10-minute break, so we turned on the house lights of the famous stage Cinecittà where [Federico] Fellini filmed in Rome, watched the live feed. We cheered a lot of times, and then we just went right back to filming. [Laugh].
MALTE GRUNERT: I was in the office in a writer’s room we’re gearing up to do, and they took a break and we all watched the live feed and opened a bottle of champagne. [Laugh].
DEADLINE: This film has garnered incredible accolades in just the last week alone are you surprised that the film has been so well received?
BERGER: Well, I don’t know if surprised is the right word because there has been a lot of love from everyone for the past few months, but I guess overwhelmed and stunned in a way by the love that’s been pouring out from colleagues and members and other filmmakers. That’s definitely overwhelming. But definitely, the surprise is the number of nominations is a wonderful surprise.
GRUNERT: I think the same. You know, we could feel that the film was being well received, and Edward and I, we had been at quite a few screenings and Q&As, and we could see that the film found an audience and that the reception was very good, but I would’ve never imagined that we would end up with this number of nominations at the Academy Awards. Never.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about the fact that this is the first German adaptation of this film. It’s been adapted by Americans and the British but never Germany, which is wild to think, considering it is a German novel. When settling on making the German adaptation, did it feel like a risk that has now especially paid off?
BERGER: I thought it felt like a major risk because with a movie like this, you can utterly fail. Because there is a very famous American adaptation that is, granted, almost a hundred years old, but still, you know, it is still very dear to other filmmakers. So you can massively fail with a movie like this and set your goals too high. And then you never know, like, are we doing this right? Is it enough money? Because money, unfortunately, in a genre like this is important. Do we have enough to make it properly to make it look not to become a joke? Yeah. Because if it doesn’t, if it looks terrible, then it’s not right and we can’t do the material justice on top of that.
The book is so famous that you have a fear of failing the book. And I think for Malte and I, or at least I can speak for me, there was a journey of doubts and wondering if it was worth making and if we made the right decision and if we made an OK movie, and when you see the first cut, it certainly doesn’t feel like you’re there already, there’s a lot of work involved. You think like, ‘Are we ever going to get there? Is it going to be a movie that’s going to connect to people?’ You don’t really know that for at least a year and a half during the making of [a film] until you are at the premiere in Toronto, for example.
GRUNERT: And at the same time, while there, there are all these doubts of recycling something that was turned into a classic movie, so it felt very much like an undeniable proposition. I mean, when this option came to make something based on [Erich Maria] Remarque’s masterpiece for the very first time in German, its original language, it felt like a blind spot and that it had been never done felt like, why? How can this be? So, it was intimidating, but also a very clear yes.
DEADLINE: Considering all its nominations, why do you think people are resonating to the film this way?
GRUNERT: It’s a literary masterpiece of sorts that tells a story about war that still feels contemporary. It’s a story about war that isn’t a hero’s journey. It’s not about accomplishing a mission or being somewhere by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. Or if not, then something happens. It’s none of that. And that feels like a very contemporary and a very German perspective on war. And I think that is something that people connect to. Obviously, there is the horrible sort of political relevance that it has because of the war in Ukraine. It could have gone either way. Obviously, you know, people not caring about the film depicting war while a real one is going on. But we seem to have struck a chord with possibly this perspective and the story we’re telling. And then thirdly, I think the entire creative team and all the departments that are also nominated and obviously our lead actor of Felix Kammerer and certainly Edward just did a fantastic job. And I think it’s a very well-made film, and I’m proud of that.
DEADLINE: What does joining the historical ranks of the film’s original 1930 Best Picture category mean to you?
BERGER: It’s a momentous moment for me the fact that, and I don’t use this word lightly because Germany has a problem with the word “proud” because of its history. And so I always have a very difficult time using that word. But in this case, I’m really proud of all the people who got nominated for the film, the effects, makeup, camera, production design, the entire crew, and at the BAFTAs. So that just means a lot that it was really like every team member worked so hard, and I don’t think I’ve ever made a movie where they contributed so much to the final result. Every single piece was so important, and every one of them was so good. And so that contribution that got recognized, I’m really proud of. And it means a lot to have that recognized by the biggest film award in the world, you know? And to not have failed the novel…for now [Laughs]. It seems to have connected with the audience and not to have failed the original movie and that’s a sense of relief.
GRUNERT: And I think there is another element, which for me is, is sort of beautiful and humbling. It’s that the first adaptation was made in Hollywood in 1929, and because at that time already, the film couldn’t have been made in Germany anymore. It was banned in Germany briefly after it was released. Remarque’s book was burnt and he had to flee Germany and Hollywood became a place of refuge for so many artists that needed to escape Europe and to be even remotely sort of—and I don’t mean to compare us to that [dire situation] at all—these shoes are way too big for us, but to be even remotely connected to that is, is something that is humbling and beautiful.
The 95th Academy Awards are set to take place at the Dolby Theatre on March 12.