49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on 3 December 2009
"La Grande Illusion" is often considered one of the best movies ever made, and people like Woody Allen see it every day or something like that. It was directed in 1937 by Jean Renoir, son of painter Auguste Renoir. The setting is the 1st world war, and the protagonists are prisoners of war: three frenchmen, an aristocrat, an officer and a jew are captured by the germans. But this is no usual war film. First of all, there is no simple propagandistic message or depictions of good vs evil. On the contrary, enemy soldiers are behaving like gentlemen towards each other (often producing comic effects, as when a german guard tries to console one of the prisoners by giving him a harmonica, or the officer who begs the escapee he shot for forgiveness). And questions like why the war started and how it will end is put aside. Instead, more existential questions come to the fore. Like the futility of it all. And social questions like class relations and nationalities. It is interesting how nationalities are mixed, in the film german, french and english is spoken making it a film about Europe. Europe before the EU and before Hitler. But even so it has a timeless quality. This is an anti war-film, but not by depicting people being slaughtered or cities in ruins. Instead it feels like a celebration of life and friendship which makes the war going on seem all the more insane and a grand illusion indeed.
The DVD from Optimum is very good. The picture/transfer is excellent in every way, I watched it on a projector and it looked like new. And there are good extras: two early short movies by Renoir and two introductions, one by Renoir himself and one by film critic Jeanette Vincendeau. Both are well worth watching, Renoir gives an inspired speech to the audience and Vincendeau an analysis of the film.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I will admit straight away that I look at this film through rose tinted spectacles. In my case age has done absolutely nothing to wither the beauty and power of this film. It was the very first foreign language film that I managed to sit through as a child. Not only did I sit through it, but I loved it. It was so human and accessible, it's messages still resounding down the many years since it was made back in 1937. Congratulations to Studio Canal who have restored it to it's original glory. I saw the 1958 version on TV some years ago, which was made up from prints recovered after the Second World War. The Nazi's despised the films anti war message, and the way in which the different classes, which included a jew, a coloured man and a member of the French aristocracy, worked together for a common cause. Anathema to Hitler!
The film is set in a German POW camp during the First World War. A mixed bag of French POW's work together to try and esacape back to France. The class difference between the men is such that the aristocratic French captain De Boeldieu has more in common with his German counterpart Captain Von Rauffenstein. The two sharing the same chivalrous code towards war. Class differences are put aside for same nationalistic common cause. The films director Jean Renoir explored similar themes two years later in " La Regle du Jeu". Much has been made of the fact Renoir's father was the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and the extent to which he was influenced by him. Perhaps this has been a little overstated. In "La Grande Illusion" the cinematography does not really support that, although if you watch his later film "The River", you could certainly otherwise. It doesn't really matter a lot. The film wins hearts and minds with it's band of brothers fraternity, even with the supposed enemy. In this film there is no real enemy. Germans, British and French all share the common human characteristics that bind them together as part of humanity. That of course is the tragedy of war.
Perhaps the films most famous scene is when the prisoners sing a moving rendition of "La Marseillais", and rightly so. When the French public get behind their national rugby team at the Parc De Princes and sing it, I am in no mood to sing along with them, but in the film I would have happily stood up and joined in. It was one of those rare noble cinematic moments, timed to perfection in the juxtaposition of the madcap stage antics. I also loved the tender scenes between Jean Gabin the escaped POW and the German mother harbouring him. Beautifully understated in the same way that John Wayne's relationship with his brother's wife in the epic western "The Searchers" was. Simply as an entertaining POW film it stands the test of time. There are a few short extras that are worth catching. The restoration extra simply splits the screen in before and after fashion, which is effective. There is an insight into the film by an American screenwriter and an introduction by a French film expert. Can't recall what she actually did! Neither are in any great depth, but the sort of length that does not intimidate. It was a delight to see the film in the way that audiences in 1937 might have done. It is another chance to travel on the movie time tunnel. Well worth climbing aboard.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This film may be 66 years old but it is still a remarkable work that never fails to move me.
The storyline is amply covered in the official Amazon review but along with Kubrick's 1957 "Paths of Glory" and the original 1930 "All Quiet on the Western Front", it is a film that everyone should see.
There are no battle scenes and very few special effects but none are necessary. If you've stumbled across this film by accident, you will not waste your money (and it's so cheap for what it is) if you tack it onto another order just out of curiosity.
The musical score is a masterpiece in its own right but beware that if you order that, it is only a recording from the film, not a separate performance.
There are very few films anywhere near as good as this one, and it would be hard to argue compellingly that any was better. Take the risk. I'm quite sure you won't regret it.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
NB: As is their wont, Amazon have unhelpfully lumped together the reviews of various editions and formats of this title. This review refers to StudioCanal's DVD and Blu-ray releases, which conain different extras.
La Grande Illusion is one of those films whose reputation as one of the pinnacles of cinematic achievement has always seemed unfathomable to me. If anything, its reputation does the film a great disservice. It IS a good film - a very good film, in fact - but it's not the great one it may have seemed before so many P.O.W. films burrowed through similar ground after the war, and it seems to have less to say with each passing year, gradually turning into yet another prisoner of war movie moving from boarding school hijinks to slightly superficial comments on the class system. There are a few excellent scenes in the last third, not least once Von Stroheim re-enters the film, but it feels at times as if there's more French studio system craft than substance. Certainly as an anti-war film it's surprisingly ineffective compared to Pabst or Milestone's earlier efforts.
Studio Canal's 75th Anniversary edition DVD is an improvement over the previous Warners/Canal + release, this has a restored sequence missing from the earlier release and an introduction by film historian Ginette Vincendreau. Also included are two of Renoir's silent short films:
Made with film stock left over from the production of Nana, 1927's Sur un Air de Charleston is described as a holiday film for all concerned, and that's the best way to view it. Jean Renoir seems never to have thought enough of it to even edit the footage together. The plot is a simple reversion of racial stereotypes - in 2028 a black explorer travels to a post-holocaust Paris where a white native girl teaches him the Charleston (naturally he assumes she's a savage whose dancing is a prelude to her eating him before giving in to the seductive beat of `White Aborigine' music). There are plenty of surreal touches, be it the pet gorilla eating the flowers in Catherine Hessling's hair, the angels the girl telephones (Renoir and producer Pierre Braunberger among them) or the fact that black performer Johnny Huggins plays his part in minstrel blackface while Hessling's dancing ability is almost completely nonexistent, and there are some interesting occasional experiments with slow motion, but there's not really enough to sustain it for its modest two reels.
1928 short La Petite Marchande D'Allumettes aka The Little Match Girl also suffers from an unconvincing and badly cast lead performance from Mrs Renoir, Catherine Hessling, who looks anything but little and more than capable of looking after herself, which certainly takes the edge off Hans Christian Andersen's tale. Indeed, the film makes a couple of attempts to write itself out of the problem by portraying her as more than usually stupid, but they feel more like in-jokes than anything else. It's a shame, because the film itself is an impressively staged fantasy with great special effects and some interesting visual experimentation with camera speed and focus amid the unashamedly romantic treatment of the fantasy scenes, especially the sequence where the girl and her toy soldier are chased through the clouds by Death in the form of a relentless Hussar. If only you could care about the character...
After a few disappointments like their truly dismal Blu-ray transfer of Ran [Blu-ray], Studio Canal's Blu-ray comes with a very impressive new transfer that's slightly let down by ridiculously tiny subtitles that will be troublesome for some watching on anything less than a 40inch set - why is it that so many Blu-ray producers seem to assume everybody will be watching on a 60inch screen? On the plus side there's a plethora of featurettes, including the reminiscences of script girl Francois Giroud in an extract from a 1986 French TV programme that saw her revisiting the castle location for the film, a couple of restoration pieces, critical appraisals by Olivier Curchod, John Truby and Ginette Vincendeau and both the original and 1958 reissue trailers. The latter is particularly interesting, with Renoir 'doing a Hitchcock' and simply addressing the camera for six minutes with his own reminiscences about the film. Unlike their earlier DVD special edition, it's missing one of the Renoir silent short films, the surreal Sur un Air de Charleston, instead offering only 1928's La Petite Marchande D'Allumettes aka The Little Match Girl.
The same Blu-ray edition that StudioCanal have released in France and Germany with the same language and subtitle options, initial copies of the UK Blu-ray come in digibook packaging with an English-language booklet about the film - though be warned, it's a bit difficult getting the disc back into the packaging.
52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2007
This is one of if not thee greatest french movie of all time the plot summary is 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.
This has about 2 hour worth of special features including about an hours worth of silent films an introduction from jean Renoir aswell as an introuduction from french film critic Ginette Vincendeau.
What more could you ask this film has english subtitles and french audio.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2011
"La Grande Illusion" is one of those rare pictures where everything seems to come together- a strong cast, a good script, a healthy dose of emotion and humour and of course, excellent direction. Renoir's film is one of humanity in the face of inhumane conditions, epitomised in the grim trenches and prison camps of the First World War.
Although my command of French is limited, the language in this tri-lingual film (some characters speak German or English as well as French) is poetic, eloquent and emotive. Renoir's subtle touches make this anti-war parable as fresh today as when it first premiered to enthusiastic audiences back in 1937. The film isn't preachy or a piece of political propaganda, but rather a human story set against a dark and menacing backdrop.
This is a must see for anyone with an interest in world cinema- even if you don't understand French or German, this film captivates the imagination.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
La Grande Illusion is a film of great humanity that cannot fail to move the attentive viewer, although some may lose patience with its norms that are very different from those of our own time. Seeing what is universal in it, and whether any progress has been made, or in some ways the reverse, is one of the things that compel the attention. Certainly the class distinctions seem more marked, but at the same time there is a general respect for others and a fundamental decency - without a trace of self-righteousness - that seem more generally applicable than today. Even though the film moves through two prisoner of war camps in Germany in WW1, there is a sense of treating the enemy with respect, and one of the most moving scenes is where a German aristocrat, having shot a French one, feels a kinship with him that is utterly at variance with his duty. He apologises for having shot him, and the Frenchman says he would have done the same; there is a total accord, and an understanding that a role is a role in a war, and that it is futile. There is something desperately moving about this sequence, as there is in another French officer (Gabin), more working class, falling in love with a German woman with whom he can barely exchange two words. The French in the camps show a remarkable spirit and solidarity, which accords with Renoir's generous vision, but was probably true as well. It is amazing what hijinks went on, including a revue where many appeared in drag. One of the strangest moments in the film is where a young man dresses up in the feminine accoutrements that have arrived in a trunk for this purpose, and the others all fall completely silent, because he reminds them so forcibly of what they have been missing. It's a collective moment of marvellous strangeness. The ensemble acting is first rate: Jean Gabin brings tremendous nobility to his role, his face is so striking, and Marcel Dalio, Pierre Fresnay and Erich von Stroheim all make an indelible impression, as do the very drole Carette and the serious Jean Daste. Both he and Dita Parlo feature but never meet, having been so memorable on their barge in Vigo's L'Atalante less than five years before. The landscapes are often breathtaking, and the cinematography altogether very good, while the score by Joseph Kosma has a wonderfully soulful strain. It has to be said that this remains one of the greatest French films, and a tribute to the nobility of the human spirit that we sometimes lose sight of, as well as a scathing indictment of war, but one which has no illusions about the likelihood of lasting peace in the world ...
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I have watched this film many times since the Sixties; due to postings with Reuters in each of its main languages, and it remains a very strong film. Like most good films it has a number of story lines which move back and forth. The cheery French officers who constitute our heroes contain a mixture of classes and religions (the wealthy Jewish banker, the French aristo and a mechanic amongst others). The film opens with the ambiguity of German pilots entertaining the French pilots who have just been shot down; both sides are punctilious and friendly. Eric von Stroheim as von Rauffenstein (played as Prussian cavalry officer) returns later in the film as the gaoler after suffering burns.
At no stage are the Germans seen as Huns or swine; indeed the old reservists who guard our heroes are kindly, and concerned for their charges. The war seems to be rather more like a football match seen from afar where news appear on the notice board, and the two sets of supporters are uplifted or brought low.
Numerous escape plots lead a reduced band of men to a Colditz-clone (where there is even a French african officer). Here de Boildieu and von Rauffenstein reflect that the war is the end of their warrior class. Two alone escape, bicker, reconcile and find refuge with a German widow. Once again the similarities between people overcome the difference between their nations and it is hard to disagree with the sentiments of "Good luck to them" expressed by the border patrol as the escapees reach Switzerland.
La Grande Illusion is not a classic anti-war film; it is neither angry nor "a searing indictment" but is rather a pro-foreigners film in which Renoir constantly tries to get you to consider the people who constitute the other side. It finds little positive in war (and even the warrior caste can see that) but it refuses to accept stereotypes - except perhaps the mono-lingual British officers in the "trou" scene.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2011
Well, no it isn't as that honour must surely go to 'Casablanca' but it is still pretty damn near the top of the list.
Director Jean Renoir saw the world as being organised along parallel lines - i.e. a French farmer having more in common with a Chinese farmer than with a French financier - and he explores this philosophy in 'La Grande Illusion', turning what in the hands of a lesser director would be a run-of -the-mill prisoner of war drama into a moving study of friendship. Indeed, the more Renoir explores the common bonds that unite soldiers, prisoners and civilians irrespective of national boundaries, the more the viewer is tempted to ask "what was the point of the 1914 - 1918 war?" - perhaps that is the Illusion of the film's title. As one character states:"Frontiers are an invention of men. Nature doesn't give a hoot".
The heart of the film is the relationship between prisoner and gaoler: the aristocratic French captain de Boeldieu and his German counterpart von Rauffenstein. Both men are much easier and more relaxed in each other's company than they are with their own 'working class' army compatriots, readily swapping stories about Maxim's in Paris and horse racing in Liverpool. But Rauffenstein's faith in his class background is ultimately misguided (a grand delusion?). Whereas Boeldieu has accepted the decline and ultimate demise of the status of the aristocracy and respects the talent of his fellow soldiers without actually befriending them, Rauffenstein yearns for the maintenance of the old social order and can even barely acknowledge the working class as genuine army officers. This clash between Rauffenstein's misplaced upper-class idealism and Boeldieu's pragmatic realism leads only to tragedy.
In one notable scene, the Germans sing their patriotic song 'Die Wacht am Rhein', only for the French to retort with 'La Marseillaise'. Hang on a second: didn't Michael Curtiz copy that in Casablanca 5 years later in 1942? Hmm ... maybe 'Casablanca' is not so great after all!
If you have already seen 'La Grande Illusion', see it again. If you have not, then buy this film.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 17 June 2010
Once thought to be forever lost, this is a great movie, even if some may consider it dated. We are able to enjoy some memorable performances (by Stronheim, Carette and, of course, Gabin) and very humanistic moments, making it the very first foreign language film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, in 1939 (that year won Capra's "You Can't Take It With You") (La Grande Illusion: 4.8/5).
About the DVD (and why I gave 3/5 stars in this 5 stars movie) : it has good extras, but one unfortunate detail that really upsets me, you cannot turn off the subtitles.. This is quite a surprising finding in a DVD of such quality...