Edward Berger graduated from film school at New York University and spent his post-collegiate years working at a production company on films by Ang Lee and Todd Haynes, before returning to his native Germany to make his own directorial debut: Gomez: Kopf oder Zahl (1999), a Berlin-set coming-of-age drama, which he followed with the rom-com, Female2 Seeks Happy End (2001). The writer-director's most recent feature was 2019's All My Loving, a family drama about 40-something siblings dealing with the dysfunctions of life.
Berger's work on the small screen, directing prestige TV like the Cold War-era spy drama Deutschland 83 and AMC's horror anthology The Terror, is perhaps more indicative of how he wound up at the helm of the first German adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's seminal anti-war story, All Quiet on the Western Front.
At the 95th Oscars, All Quiet on the Western Front is the second-most nominated film of the year, earning a total of nine nominations, including Best Picture, Best International Feature, and Best Adapted Screenplay (which Berger shares with Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell).
"I still can't grasp it. I'm shooting in Cinecittà in Rome right now in these wonderful studios, and we stopped for 15 minutes, and watched the livestream, and took it all in. And that was a wonderful feeling," the filmmaker says of the nominations. "To get recognized by your peers, and so widely that my entire team got recognized — because we really worked hand-in-hand — it feels like a real group experience. That's what makes it really special and wonderful."
Below, Berger shares with A.frame five of the films that have most impressed him and inspired his approach to filmmaking. Though, he admits, "It constantly shifts, from moment to moment, so this is the most nerve-wracking thing for me."
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Written by: John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola
After I'd left school, I was working in Paris selling T-shirts at rock concerts. I lived in a sixth floor walkup, in a tiny, 20-square foot room without a bathroom or shower. But there was a cinema six floors down. And that cinema played arthouse movies and reruns of old movies. I remember hearing the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now through the open window, I was 18, and I went down one night to watch it. And after that experience, I went back, I think, seven times to watch it in that cinema in the period of two or three weeks. It was one of the movies that tipped me over the edge in terms of wanting to be a filmmaker.
What I admired about it is that it wasn't a plot. It wasn't trying to tell me a story. Rather, it was trying to capture the essence of insanity. That ambition, of trying to capture a feeling or the chaos or hell itself, rather than telling a story, left a profound impact on me. And thinking that atmosphere, that camera, that lighting, that music can transport me into a different world, and I don't even need to get told a story! Even though the story is wonderfully congruent with the inner and outer journey that this character undertakes; the inner journey towards finding himself and the journey up the river into the hearts of darkness are wonderfully parallel. The story struck me as secondary. The journey of this character as well as the representation of hell was what really impressed me.
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos | Written by: Efthimis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos
Most of these lists are with old movies, which I admire, but let's throw a couple of new ones in there just to mix it up a bit. I constantly get surprised by new movies, and every year there's a new movie that I'm impressed by. I rewatch The Killing of a Sacred Deer every time I write a script. I find it incredibly inventive. When I write a new script and I get stuck and I don't have any ideas, I feel like it gives you permission to think freely, to free your mind of logic, and to be inspired. It feels mythological, like an ancient Greek myth, and yet still feels very modern. The story feels very real to me, and yet, it's completely free in its devices and its plot ideas. I always think watching that movie inspires me to be free and to think, 'Don't worry about reality so much. As long as it feels real, and you are convinced it could be real, the audience will buy into it.'
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski | Written by: Pawel Pawlikowski and Janusz Glowacki
When I think of Cold War, it feels like a two-and-a-half-hour epic. It is incredibly vast and captures that essence of the Cold War, of the Eastern Bloc, of the East-West conflict, and the history of so many people that grew up under the Russian oppression of countries like Poland. I grew up in a neighboring country, so I know — a little bit — the feeling. I don't think Poland and Germany are too far apart in terms of their mentality. And it feels like a massive epic. I would compare it to Doctor Zhivago. It feels big and grand.
And only recently, I was surprised to find that it's something like 90 minutes long. I don't mean that it feels, like, boring long! In 90 minutes, with the simplicity and sharpness of the filmmaker, and the precision of the filmmaker to capture such an epic historic period, it makes you feel like, 'I can understand the entire period of the '60s in the Eastern Bloc.' I was very impressed with that film. It's an incredible feat.
Written and directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the masters for me, and all of the movies that I'm mentioning here have that in common. They're not just simple stories. They're trying to capture something larger. And the way P.T. Anderson sort of demystifies the American dream is wonderful. This movie has influenced me the most in that he marries music and images so well and uses music to deconstruct the images. I remember when Daniel Day-Lewis crawls away from the hole that he dug and the camera pans to the beautiful landscape — rocky and arid but still beautiful — and then Jonny Greenwood's sort of twinging, beehive string music comes on like a swarm of wasp attacking you. It gives a complete new meaning to this landscape and really underscores the harshness of it.
There's another piece of music that I never forget, when the oil tower explodes and Daniel Day-Lewis rushes to rescue his adopted son. There's a bunch of percussion, and it's just chaos. It's pure chaos. After a while, I realized, 'Oh, it's the oil rig. It's the machinery of the oil rig.' One of the things I said to Volker, our composer who did the music for All Quiet on the Western Front, is, 'Destroy the images.' And that came from the inspiration of There Will Be Blood.
Directed by: Michelangelo Antonioni | Written by: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini and Tonino Guerra
I love the starkness of it. The lostness. Monica Vitti in that landscape. Again, it's a story that is not really plot-driven but more of a symbol of emptiness in the world. I remember watching it at the Lincoln Center in a retrospective for Antonioni, and he was there as a very old man. I remember loving that he didn't try to press his story or his interpretation on me, but left it quite oblique and quite mysterious. He left a lot of room for me to find my own story. And that's what I love about L'Avventura. I love the beauty of that setting and the beauty of our main protagonists' loneliness. It was a wonderful feeling that I took out of that movie.