Despite representing Germany at this year’s Academy Awards for best international feature, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ writer-director Edward Berger doesn’t feel national pride for the country.
“I don’t feel that because of the history,” Berger tells Variety.
“I could never say I’m proud to be German. Those words don’t fit into our mouths, and rightly so. I would have a hard time thinking I would represent the country because I can’t speak for the entire country.”
On this episode of Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast, Berger discusses All Quiet on the Western Front’s nine Oscar noms – the second most of the year – and employing the most artisans of any non-English movie in history. Finally, he shares why he feels a responsibility to accurately portray Germany’s role in some of humanity’s most devastating wars.
Distributed by Netflix and based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front tells the story of a young German soldier and his terrifying experiences during World War I.
It’s nominated for nine Oscars – best picture (Malte Grunert), adapted screenplay (Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, Ian Stokell), production design (Christian M. Goldbeck, Ernestine Hipper) cinematography (James Friend), makeup and hairstyling (Heike Merker, Linda Eisenhamerova), sound (Viktor Prasil, Frank Kruse, Markus Stemler, Lars Ginzel, Stefan Korte), visual effects (Frank Petzold, Viktor Muller, Markus Frank, Kamil Jaffar), original score (Volker Bertelmann) and international feature (Germany). The movie is also coming off a record-breaking seven BAFTA wins, the most for a film not in English, surpassing the five held by ‘Cinema Paradiso’ (1988).
Berger was born in Germany, but his family’s origins are in Switzerland. Putting his roots in the context of the World Cup, he said: “If Germany plays Switzerland, I’m for Germany. I hope the Swiss listeners are not mad at me.”
But that’s about as far as Berger is willing to discuss possibly bringing Germany its first international feature Oscar win since ‘The Lives of Others’ (2006). This has been a complicated time for the 53-year-old filmmaker, who won the BAFTA award for best director on Sunday. He’s the first BAFTA director winner to not receive an Oscar nom in the directing category since Ben Affleck (‘Argo’) in 2012.
“I feel a certain responsibility toward history, toward the last century in Germany,” he said.
“I feel a certain sense of guilt and shame – a lot of it – because of what Germany brought to the world. We wanted to put that feeling into the movie.”
The honour of receiving an Academy Award nomination is not something that Berger takes lightly, and he’s incredibly grateful. The complicated relationship between the place you call your home while acknowledging the grotesque actions of a nation is something that many Americans identify with, given its own history of racism and inequality.
He added: “I’m sure that tons of Germs can’t identify with me, as I can’t identify with them. Everyone’s different. We’re very happy that we got selected and have this honour to celebrate movies.”
“Whatever happens, happens,” Berger continues. “And if Germany feels we represent them well, it would make me happy.