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 Andre Devigny 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,
A small-time thief steals a car and impulsively murders a motorcycle policeman. Wanted by the authorities, he reunites with a hip American journalism student and attempts to persuade her to run away with him to Italy.
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
Somewhere between early scripting and production, the character of Dolette developed into the wealthy Jewish character Rosenthal, which gave Jean Renoir the opportunity of not only joining race and ethnicity to the examination of class themes but, with Rosenthal written as a middle-class character, of adding nuance to the dichotomy between the working-class Marechal and the aristocratic De Boeldieu. The character was made more complex with the help of producer Albert Pinkovitch, who was Jewish and frequently offered suggestions for building the role into a plum part for Jewish actor Marcel Dalio. 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 »
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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