Die große Illusion (1937)

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Die große Illusion: Directed by Jean Renoir. With Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim. During WWI, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are eventually sent to a seemingly inescapable fortress.

“It is a wonder to see a film from the 1930u0026#39;s so definite in its view and opinions, yet so touching and revelatory. Jean Renoiru0026#39;s GRAND ILLUSION is a film of great importance, one that improves with each viewing. Having just finished the picture again for the first time in some 7 years, I was struck by its freshness. It is an Anti-War film set during World War I that is something to watch. It demands intense viewing.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThis is a French work of art by the great Renoir, who would make his most acclaimed film, RULES OF THE GAME, two years later. If you ask me, GRAND ILLUSION is the superior pic and holds up immeasurably better. The small doses of humor and original characters in this film foresee the classic u0026quot;shooting partyu0026quot; of RULES OF THE GAME. With this movie, Renoir uses prisoners-of-war and the ludicrous element of war so prevalent in early 20th Century Europe and merges them into a film not unlike a play (an extremely well-written play). The viewer has no illusions as to whether or not a war is happening. We happen not to see any battles or gunplay, rather, the human element between men and women who are not so different no matter their ethnicity.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eRenoiru0026#39;s camera is an incredible tool used throughout. He probes the characters at the various prison camps with some smooth dolly shots and brilliant use of focus and pull-backs. It seems like an extension of his hand, much like his fatheru0026#39;s paintings. One striking scene has some weary soldiers singing the French u0026quot;Las Marseillesu0026quot; after getting third hand knowledge of a French victory over their German captors. Any scene with Erich von Stroheim is interesting because he is human and not some mindless German dictator so many people would come to know at the time of the filmu0026#39;s release. He is a broken man, scarred by war and looking to gain a friend in the enemy. This is rare.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eAs far as prison camp films go, these guys seem to have it easy, however the fact that they are officers gives us some explanation. The story-line effectively moves from escape attempts to human realization of the situation they are in. Parts of it reminded me of STALAG 17, Billy Wilderu0026#39;s 1953 classic no doubt inspired by GRAND ILLUSION. This is Wilderu0026#39;s film without the Hollywood touch, realist and sometimes drab. Abel Ganceu0026#39;s Ju0026#39;ACCUSE would follow a year later. If you want to see some anti-WWI films with two completely opposite methods of warning beneath the surface, see these two flicks back to back.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThe illusion of reality is shattered by war, Renoir is telling us. If only it could be as simple as those amazing shots of the countryside from inside the German womanu0026#39;s house: a breathtaking, simple look at a peaceful scene the way it should be.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eRATING: ***1/2”

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