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.
This tale centers around the love between Baptiste, a theater mime, and Claire Reine, an actress and otherwise woman-about-town who calls herself Garance. Garance, in turn, is loved by ... See full summary »
A charismatic thief makes friends with a bankrupt baron who comes to live in the thief's slum. Meanwhile the thief seeks the love of a young woman, who is held emotionally captive by her slumlord family.
The location: Nazi occupied Rome. As Rome is classified an open city, most Romans can wander the streets without fear of the city being bombed or them being killed in the process. But life ... See full summary »
Six vignettes follow the Allied invasion from July 1943 to winter 1944, from Sicily north to Venice. Communication is fragile. A woman leads an Allied patrol through a mine field; she dies ... See full summary »
During 1st WW, two French officers are captured. Captain De Boeldieu is an aristocrat while Lieutenant Marechal was a mechanic in civilian life. They meet other prisoners from various backgrounds, as Rosenthal, son of wealthy Jewish bankers. They are separated from Rosenthal before managing to escape. A few months later, they meet again in a fortress commanded by the aristocrat Van Rauffenstein. De Boeldieu strikes up a friendship with him but Marechal and Rosenthal still want to escape... Written by
In France, the First World War was referred to as "La Der des Ders" - the last one of all. The film's title The Grand Illusion (1937) explicitly points out that such a notion was indeed an illusion. See more »
When Boeldieu is dead, Rauffenstein wants to close his eyes with his hand. When the hand of Rauffenstein gets close to Boeldieu, his eye moves. See more »
Capt. de Boeldieu:
I think we can do nothing to stop the march of time.
Capt. von Rauffenstein:
Believe me, I don't know who is going to win this war the end, whatever it is will be the end of the Rauffensteins and the Boeldieus.
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What makes Grand Illusion a great movie, and the reason that some of us keep returning to it, is that it can't be reduced to a single simple proposition, the way that recent war movies like Platoon ("war bad," to quote Tarantino's synopsis) or Saving Private Ryan ("war senseless") can. It's easy to be sentimental about war, even while deploring it, by focusing on the horror of it or by making heroes out of those who are forced to fight. Renoir deals instead with the far more complex mesh of differences and alliances that separate and divide our characters. And while his main characters all have a clear class/national/religious identity, he makes much more out of them than just sociological categories.
But trying to explain why Grand Illusion is such a great movie by charting all the conflicting bonds of nationality, class, religion, etc. doesn't explain why the movie is so powerful. To me it is in those scenes in which language either separates our characters (as when Marechal tries and fails to tell the British prisoners about the tunnel or asks why de Boeldieu uses "vous") or unites them (as when von Rauffenstein and de Boeldieu speak in English or the English officer (in drag) sings the Marseillaise or when Marechal finally learns a little German). In these cases, Renoir uses language-without hitting us over the head to make the point-to illustrate the conflict between his ideal of sympathy between humans and the differences of class, nationality and religion.
Now I know that this sounds just as dry and academic as other attempts to explain Grand Illusion. Maybe it is; the movie really does not need to be explained to be enjoyed. But these are the scenes that, for whatever reason, have always made the greatest impression on me.
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