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.
France, 1942, during the occupation. Philippe Gerbier, a civil engineer, is one of the French Resistance's chiefs. Given away by a traitor, he is interned in a camp. He manages to escape, ... See full summary »
During World War II, 12-year old Ivan works as a spy on the eastern front. The small Ivan can cross the German lines unnoticed to collect information. Three Soviet officers try to take care... See full summary »
A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the Vietnam War has on his fellow Marine recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting set in 1968 in Hue, Vietnam.
September, 1944. It's the 56th day of Warsaw's uprising against the Nazis. The third Platoon of the Resistance is down to 43 heroic men and women, and they're penned in. After a last day of... See full summary »
Slovakia during WW2. Tono lives a poor life, but the authorities offer him to take over the Jewish widow Lautman's little shop for sewing material. She is old and confused and thinks that ... See full summary »
Maciek, a young Resistance fighter, is ordered to kill Szczuka, a Communist district leader, on the last day of World War II. Though killing has been easy for him in the past, Szczuka was a... See full summary »
A French boarding school run by priests seems to be a haven from World War II until a new student arrives. He becomes the roommate of top student in his class. Rivals at first, the roommates form a bond and share a secret.
Rome, 1944. Giorgio Manfredi, one of the leaders of the Resistance, is tracked down by the Nazis. He goes to his friend Francesco's, and asks Pina, Francesco's fiancée, for help. Pina must ... 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
Jean Gabin would have his eyes spotlit in close-ups to make them appear brighter. See more »
When Lt. Maréchal is climbing down the rope from the watchtower the wooden window shutters can be seen closing above him even though he closed them himself minutes prior. 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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