During the first World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.
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.
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
Jean Renoir's assistant director on this film, Jacques Becker, has a very brief role early in the film as a temperamental British officer who destroys his pocket watch rather than allow the Germans to confiscate it. Becker would himself later become a great director (e.g., Casque d'Or (1952)). See more »
As the WWI German soldiers are celebrating a French fort's capture, the map on the wall of the officers club is clearly an inter-war (1919-1938) map of Germany. See more »
Jean Renoir's classic "La Grande Illusion" has something to recommend it to anyone - there is fine acting, directing, writing, and photography, and a story filled with memorable characters who are involved in action, suspense, and drama, with some comic parts and even, later in the film, some romance. All of it fits together perfectly to create a timeless and very satisfying experience.
The movie takes place during World War I, and is often considered an anti-war film, but the themes about humanity, relationships, loyalties, and identities are all timeless and go beyond any mere political statement. The interplay between persons of different nationalities and classes, thrown together by the war, leads to good drama and makes some profound points about human nature. The story primarily follows three Frenchmen who are taken prisoner by the Germans, showing us how they manage to deal with their confinement, and allowing us to watch their disappointments and their attempts to escape. The other main character is a German prison camp commander with whom they become friendly, raising complicated questions of loyalty and duty.
The character studies are excellent, and all the fine acting and directing get the most of out the possibilities. The settings are convincing and help the viewer feel what it was like to be in camp with the prisoners, sharing their boredom and their longing for freedom. The plot itself is interesting, and has some exciting moments, but the main emphasis is on what the characters learn about themselves and about humanity in general. There are many thoughtful scenes and some nicely defined secondary characters that round out the picture.
This is a fine movie, deserving of its reputation, and one that should appeal highly to anyone who enjoys classic cinema.
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