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 »
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 »
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 »
During the German occupation noble, bourgeois and worker's partisan groups lived in peace with another. On the first day of freedom they start to fight each other. In these fights is weaved a most tender love story.
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.
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 »
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 »
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
Most of the scenes involving Erich von Stroheim were improvised on the day of filming. He and Jean Renoir would discuss in German what they would be doing, von Stroheim would write it out in English and then give it to assistant director Jacques Becker and script girl Francoise Giroud to translate into French for the screenplay. 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 »
In the old European order, pre-WWI, one nation's aristocracy made war on another's not out of love for king and country or hatred for the enemy, but out of a sense of honor and duty. War was what they did, these aristocrats of l'ancien regime. Their castles in the air, their noble worldview, their time-honored way--all would crumble, as they very well knew, if the line between the rabble and themselves were allowed to continue to blur. The masses had new and different loyalties.
"La Grande Illusion" in 1914 was the hope that that old order could be preserved in the face of surging democracy and noveau-riche power. Jean Renoir's film presents us with an irony: the martial elites of France and Germany needed the war to vouchsafe their very identities, and yet that conflict would prove their undoing. Whatever side won, the hoi polloi would gain the upper hand.
Restored from its original camera negative, the 1937 French film now on DVD sparkles like new. The restoration lets us see that nothing is dated about this work of genius, even if its POW-camp situations today seem stock and its characters stereotypes of nationality and class. The fine acting, the deft pacing, and the fluid camerawork make for a film that could have been produced last year. The whispered subtext, the nuanced conflicts, and the ironic complexity make for a film that is timeless.
The subtext is the eternal tension between "in the air" and "on the ground," "on high" and "here below," "from a distance" and "up close and personal." From a distance, war is no more rancorous than a chess game, with national boundaries as artificial as the squares on a chessboard. Up close and personal, war separates humans from their lives and aspirations, lovers from their beloveds.
The old elites loved nothing but their class and its accoutrements. It was peasant stock and noveau riche who belted out national anthems and honored the borders which in wartime could sever lover from lover but, paradoxically, also shield prison-camp escapees who made it across them to sanctuary. Renoir's genius was that he could show that an emergent new order, manifestly better on the ground, comes at a steep price, tragically, in the air.
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