Swedish film poster for Westfront 1918
|Directed by||Georg Wilhelm Pabst|
|Produced by||Seymour Nebenzal|
|Written by||Ernst Johannsen|
|Music by||Alexander Laszlo|
|Edited by||Wolfgang Loe-Bagier|
|Distributed by||Nero Films|
|Running time||97 mins|
Westfront 1918 (German: Vier von der Infanterie) is a German film, set mostly in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I. It was directed in 1930 by Georg Wilhelm Pabst, from the novel Vier von der Infanterie by Ernst Johannsen, and deals with the impact of the war on a group of infantrymen. It featured an ensemble cast led by screen veterans Fritz Kampers and Gustav Diessl; Diessl had been a prisoner of war for a year during the war.
The film bears resemblance to its close contemporary, the All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), an American production, although it has a bleaker tone consistent with Pabst's New Objectivity work through the late 1920s. It was particularly pioneering in its early use of sound—it was Pabst's first "talkie"—in that Pabst managed to record live audio during complex tracking shots through the trenches.
Westfront 1918 was a critical success when it was released, although it was often shown in truncated form. With the rise of National Socialism, the film quickly became considered by the German authorities as unsuitable for the people, notably for its obvious pacifism, and for its clear denunciation of war. This was an attitude that propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels would soon label as "cowardly defeatism".
France 1918. In the last months of World War I, four infantrymen—Bayer, a young man known as 'the student' (Der Student), Karl and the lieutenant—spend a few rest-days behind the Front. Here, the student falls in love with the French peasant girl Yvette. Back at the Front, the four suffer again the everyday hardships of war, dirt trenches and danger of death. Bayer, Karl and the lieutenant become trapped when part of the trench collapses in, and the student digs them out. Later they are mistakenly fired upon by their own artillery due to a misjudgement of distance, and again they are saved by the student, who as a messenger risked his life to relay instructions to the soldiers setting the firing range of the artillery.
Karl receives leave, returning to his starving home town and promptly catches his wife in bed with a butcher. Embittered and unreconciled, he returns to the front. In his absence, the student was stabbed in the melee. In the mud of a shell-hole is his body, only one hand sticking out. An enemy offensive is announced. Finally, supported by tanks, a large French infantry attack breaks through the thin German lines. During the defence against this onslaught, Karl and Bayer are seriously wounded, covering the remaining members of the group. The lieutenant has a nervous breakdown and falls into insanity. Shouting "Hurrah" non-stop, he salutes a pile of corpses. He is admitted to the field hospital, as well as Karl and Bayer. While the lieutenant is being carried though the hospital, many injured soldiers can be seen. In a fever Karl sees his wife again and dies with the words "We are all to blame!". He is covered up, but his hand is hanging out the side. A wounded Frenchman lying beside him takes the hand in his and says "comrades, not enemies". The final message "End" is displayed with a question mark.
Stylistically, the film achieves a surprisingly high degree of realism, especially in the trench and fight scenes. The monotony of dying reinforced the oppressive impression of authenticity. Addition, there are "small" silent scenes, such as when the student almost incidentally observed as grave markers are made in a field of carpentry on the assembly line, or as Karl's mother does not want to leave their place in the food queue when they again see her son.
But Pabst wanted more than just "Realism" : "I a realist? From my very first movie I have chosen realistic themes, but with the intention resolutely to be a stylist. ... Realism must be a trampoline from which you jump higher and higher, and in itself it has no value. The point is to overcome the reality. Realism is a means, not an end." (Quoted in : Tape Man / Hembus, p. 21). So not the fight scenes, but the individual stories of four soldiers Pabst illustrate actual pacifist statement: the belief in the power of international solidarity of ordinary people.
After the Nazis had seized power in 1933, the film was banned because it was considered "a very one-sided and therefore false representation of war" show and that would jeopardize "vital interest of the state to preserve the military will of the people maintain and strengthen" (text of the prohibition application at the German Film Institute).
- Fritz Kampers as The Bavarian
- Gustav Diessl as Karl
- Hans-Joachim Moebis as The Student
- Claus Clausen as The Lieutenant
- Jackie Monnier as Yvette
- Hanna Hoessrich as Karl's Wife
- Else Heller as Karl's Mother
- Carl Ballhaus as Journeyman butcher
- Wladimir Sokoloff as Purser
- BANDMANN, Christa & HEMBUS, Joe: Westfront 1918. In: Dies.: Klassiker des deutschen Tonfilms. Munich: Goldmann 1980, pp. 19–21 ISBN 3-442-10207-3
- VANDEN BERGHE, Marc, La mémoire impossible. Westfront 1918 de G.W. Pabst. Grande Guerre, soldats, automates. Le film et sa problématique vus par la 'Petite Illustration' (1931), Brussels, 2001 – text online in www.art-chitecture.net/publications.php 
- Andre Kagelmann u. Reinhold Keiner: „Lässig beginnt der Tod, Mensch und Tier zu ernten.“ Überlegungen zu Ernst Johannsens Roman Vier von der Infanterie und G. W. Pabsts Film WESTFRONT 1918. In: Ernst Johannsen: Vier von der Infanterie. Ihre letzen Tage an der Westfront 1918. Hrsg. v. dens. Kassel: Media Net-Edition 2014. S. 80-113. ISBN 978-3-939988-23-6.
- Westfront 1918 at the Internet Movie Database
- Westfront 1918 at AllMovie
- Senses of Cinema Article on the film
- Jeremy Arnold on the film, for Turner Classic Movies