During the First World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German POW camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.
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I love Tire-au-flanc for the gentle crazy anarchy Renoir pictures in this movie. This is not just another stupid satire on army life. The army is the utmost symbol of the order in a society. The disorder comes from the people operating in that order and there is a sweet conspiracy in this movie between the servant (played by Simon) and his rich master. Both have to go to the army. The valet adapts better to the situation than the master who is a dreamer and a poet, so by definition crazy!
After a fight between the poet and the bully of the dormitory both end in jail. The servant will help his master with food and good advice: you have to make sure that the others respect you because after all they are not bad kids. The poet at that moment really is at the end of his rope because his fiancée is seduced by an officer (fantastic scene in the prison window where the officer offers the girl a flower growing at the window, the poet jumps to see what is happening because the flower disappears and witnesses the kiss, so a betrayal of his own feelings by members of his own social group). He'll follow the advice of his servant and both will create amok during the colonel's feast. The complete chaos that follows is such that there is no punishment possible! In the meantime the bully gets what he deserves. The chaos is rewarded by a double marriage: the servant marries the maid and the poet marries the sister of his former fiancée who had a secret crush on him all the time. The closing shot is fantastic. First you see the celebration of the servants and then Simon goes to the other room to poor wine at the dinner table of his master who is also celebrating his own marriage. You can't help wondering on the nature of the future evolution of their relationships.
The beautiful window scene (it is amazing how important windows are in the Renoir movies, with inner and outer perspectives on events) reminds of the German cinema. The craziness of other scenes is tributary to the American slapstick silent movies. Renoir unites all elements to create his own universe. The same concerns will surface and will be translated in other movies.
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