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Essential Art House: Grand Illusion [DVD] [1938] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

Price: £107.07
Only 1 left in stock.
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Product details

  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001BEK8DI
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 514,648 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

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"The Grand Illusion," ("La Grande Illusion") (1937) is a war drama, another of the classic black and white masterpieces of the French cinema. It stars the magnetic Jean Gabin (Le Jour Se Leve); and was directed by that acclaimed master, Jean Renoir(Jean Renoir Collection ): he of the painterly eye, son of the world-famous, greatly-loved, impressionist artist Pierre Auguste Renoir.

It concerns two French soldiers -- blue-collar Lt. Maréchal (Gabin), and genteel Capt. de Boieldieu (Pierre Fresnay--Marius ) who strive to overcome their differences while plotting their escape from German prisoner of war camps during World War I. Meanwhile, de Boieldieu finds a kindred spirit among his captors in a patrician German officer Capt Von Rauffenstein (an unforgettable performance by actor/director Erich von Stroheim--Five Graves to Cairo). Marcel Dalio (so significant as the casino dealer in Casablanca) costars as Lt. Rosenthal, a wealthy French Jew, and a friend of Marechal's. It also boasts a passel of one-name actors, presumably from the Comedie Francaise. It's genre film-making at its best, considered one of the first prison-break movies ever made, and one of the finest anti-war movies ever made.
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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 a particularly great one, 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 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars 12 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The brilliance is in the subtext 29 Mar. 2012
By Gregory J. Casteel - Published on Amazon.com
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I'm a geek. I'm actually the sort of pathetic egghead who goes online and watches free webcasts of university lectures for entertainment. So, a few years ago I was watching the webcast of a UC Berkeley course on social psychology; and, as one of the assignments in this course, the professor had his students watch the classic 1937 French film "La grande illusion" ("Grand Illusion"), and write a paper about how the characters in the movie see themselves, and relate to each other, largely in terms of the various socially-defined roles they occupy. According to the professor, this film does an excellent job of illustrating how personal identity, interpersonal relations, and group solidarity are often the product of what are essentially arbitrary lines of distinction that have been drawn for us by the society we live in -- distinctions based on social constructs such as nationality, language, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, wealth, education, occupation, rank, etc. -- which we often just take for granted without ever questioning their legitimacy or whether they even make sense. The professor's comments about the movie intrigued me; so I decided I'd have to watch it sooner or later. Unfortunately, it ended up being later rather than sooner; but I eventually managed to watch it.

And I liked it. It was a good movie. Its exploration of how identity and relationships are often socially constructed was much subtler than I had imagined it would be based on the professor's comments; but it's definitely there if you look for it. The film also presents a subtle, yet masterful, commentary about the absurdity of nationalism, anti-Semitism, and war. It's no wonder that Hitler had this movie banned.

The film was made just two years before the outbreak of the Second World War, at a time when the clouds of impending war were already looming over Europe. There can be little doubt that director Jean Renoir (son of celebrated Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir) intended this movie to convey an anti-war message; but he didn't feel the need to bash the audience over the head with that message. This film is not at all "preachy" in its pacifism, unlike that other great anti-war movie of the 1930s, "All Quiet on the Western Front", which openly laments the horrors of war and the folly of jingoism. Renoir is far more subtle in his approach to the subject. Both films are set during the First World War, and deal with the experiences of the ordinary men who were called upon to fight that war. But "La grande illusion" takes us away from the front lines and the hellish nightmares of trench warfare that are the focus of "All Quiet on the Western Front", and takes us instead to the surreal tranquility of prisoner of war camps deep inside Germany, where captured French, Russian, British, and American officers are being held. To these prisoners, taken out of the fight, the war is little more than a distant rumor, and yet they live the war every day. They have much closer contact with the enemy than do any of their comrades back in the trenches; but this contact lacks the intense hostility of front-line combat. Prisoners and guards in the POW camps are in a position to see each other as fellow human beings, not merely as faceless enemies occupying opposite sides of a smoke-covered battlefield. So, by looking at the war from the perspective of the POW camps instead of the trenches, we can clearly see the absurdity of decent people -- people who could have been friends under different circumstances -- fighting each other to the death based solely on which side of an imaginary line they happened to have been born. Renoir doesn't need to go out of his way to point this out to us. It's obvious. So he lets us draw our own conclusions and leaves the sermonizing for others.

Likewise, Renoir doesn't feel the need to lecture us about the way that people's identities, relationships, and loyalties are shaped by arbitrary, socially-constructed distinctions. All he has to do is show us how people interact, and we can see it for ourselves. It is often quite subtle; but it's there. The old adage in filmmaking is: "Show, don't tell." So, if the mark of a great filmmaker is the ability to get an idea across to the audience without just blurting it out, then Jean Renoir is a great filmmaker. On the surface, this is simply an entertaining movie about an escape attempt by French POWs during the Great War. But look beneath the surface to the subtext and you'll find something far more profound. No wonder "La grande illusion" is considered a cinematic masterpiece.

As for the DVD, this particular edition contains just the film, with no special features. If you're looking for a version that has lots of bonus material, you'll have to get a different edition. (I believe that multiple editions are available on Amazon; so look around.) All I really cared about was the film itself; so I chose the least expensive DVD I could find. In case you're wondering, the film is in black & white, and has a running time of just a little under two hours. Most of the dialogue is in French and German, with just a few lines of English and Russian thrown in here and there. This DVD has English subtitles that are on by default; though you are given the option of turning them off.
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful film - ought to be required curriculum in all ... 18 Aug. 2014
By Whatwouldnelsondo - Published on Amazon.com
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Wonderful film - ought to be required curriculum in all the world's schools. We need something to help us all get on with one another. This edition of the film is clear and crisp. I am happy that I bought it. Great movie - really shows how stupid wars are. I wish the nations of the world would learn that lesson.
5.0 out of 5 stars Grand Illusion 1937 29 Mar. 2014
By Laura - Published on Amazon.com
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What a beautiful movie about world war II showing how 2 men escaped from a Nazi prison camp, how they stuck together no matter what and how one falls in love with a wonderful German woman. I was happily surprised at how great this movie is.
5.0 out of 5 stars A REAL FILM 27 Nov. 2014
By ACB - Published on Amazon.com
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excellent - really believeable actors. TOP DRAW
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grand Illusion by Jean Renoir 31 Aug. 2010
By Paul Kao - Published on Amazon.com
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This is a fabulous movie! It stars a young Jean Gabin and also stars Eric von Stroheim. This DVD is not the Criterion version, but is just as good at a much cheaper price. Part of Casablana were stolen from this movie.
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