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.
Captured French Resistance fighter Lieutenant Fontaine awaits a certain death sentence for espionage in a stark Nazi prison. Facing malnourishment and paralyzing fear, he must engineer an ... See full summary »
Charles Le Clainche,
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
Joseph Goebbels made sure that the film's print was one of the first things seized by the Germans when they occupied France. He referred to Jean Renoir as "Cinematic Public Enemy Number 1". For many years it was assumed that the film had been destroyed in an Allied air raid in 1942. However, a German film archivist named Frank Hansel, then a Nazi officer in Paris, had actually smuggled it back to Berlin. Then when the Russians entered Berlin in 1945, the film found its way to an archive in Moscow. When Renoir came to restore his film in the 1960s, he knew nothing of Hansel's acquisition and was working from an old muddy print. Purely by coincidence at the same time, the Russian archive swapped some material with an archive in Toulouse. Included in that exchange was the original negative print. However, because so many prints of the film existed at the time, it would be another 30 years before anyone realised that the version in Toulouse was actually the original negative. 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 »
From Jean Renoir's autobiography, My Life and My Films (1974):
"If a French farmer should find himself dining at the same table as a French financier, those two Frenchmen would have nothing to say to each other, each being unconcerned with the other's interests. But if a French farmer meets a Chinese farmer they will find any amount to talk about. This theme of the bringing together of men through their callings and common interests has haunted me all my life and does so still. It is the theme of 'La Grande Illusion' and it is present, more or less, in all my works."
In a sense, 'La Grande Illusion' is a counterpoint in an argument of stories: in one corner, Jean Renoir & friends singing about humor and good cheer; in the other, a handful of Germans demanding bigotry and murderous pride.
My opinion of the movie is quite high, but I think, from having read that book and a few others, that the real accomplishments in 'Illusion,' artistic and thematic, come directly from Renoir's deep affection of people and our loves.
To live your life with love and humor takes thoughtful delicacy. It's much easier to close your heart, fence yourself in, and never have a true friend in your life: and such closed-hearted people are inevitably the ones who coolly turn the political screws until the world bursts into famine and war.
It was too much to think that 'La Grande Illusion' would prevent the then coming war, as Renoir hoped. But to look at the story again, as a lyrical anti-fascist statement and a call to weigh friendship and good company over nationalism (of any sort), that I think is where the story gets really good.
The modern era continues to give us a real choice. We can kill, without effort, to subdue the stranger. Or we can join the stranger for a meal and a conversation, and become friends. Which of these is the true vision of the world's "leaders"? Cold hearts, cold future.
Something to think about as you watch the movie.
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