La grande illusion (1937) Jean Renoir

Monday, May 24, 2010

Second of the French film series, was a truly good surprise.

It's so curious and fascinating to watch old movies, even after it has been confiscated and edited, and re-edited, to be found in conditions enough to be re-distributed in DVD forms for the enjoyment of modern audiences, like me. It's quite extraordinary, and in the case of this film, I feel lucky for the advance of technology that allows for this.

It is an anti-war film with a touch of comédie française, and apparently one of the first prison escape film, as well. La Grande Illusion tells of the First World War, set in 1914, where there was no Hitler, and when "the Nazis have not yet spoilt the spirit of the world", according to the director Jean Renoir. That the Germans and their prisoner officers of war - the French, Russian, Belgian, English - could have gotten along together, and treated more or less with respect could be surprising for us, but the 1914 war was "almost a war of gentlemen."

In prison, everyone learns to give and take in mutual respect of each other. Fellow comrades help each other out, sharing food parcels, and even washing the feet of a wounded soldier. One of the actors, Jean Gabin, get to wear Renoir's own old uniform. A German countrywoman offers the escaped her house and food, despite having had her husband and brothers killed in war, and even comes to love one of the Frenchmen. However, when the prisoners resist, the Germans do react with firearms; duty is duty. Had the roles been reversed, the others would have done the same.

La Grande Illusion is a story about ordinary people caught in a horrible circumstance called the war, and also about human relationships.

You can't see borders. They're man-made. Nature couldn't care less.
Les frontières, c'est une invention des hommes. La nature s'en fous.

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