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La Grande Illusion 75th Anniversary [DVD]
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Jean Renoir's classic prison escape movie, often seen as a humane and pacifist indictment of war, offers an ambiguous perspective on class differences. In a WWI German prisoner-of-war camp, three French soldiers, working-class Lieutenant Marechal (Jean Gabin), middle-class Jew Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio) and aristocratic senior officer Captain de Boieldieu (Pierre Fresnay), are held prisoner by Commandant Von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim). The film shows how a bond of sympathy exists more between the German Commandant and the senior French officer than between the three Frenchman of different classes. Even though de Boieldieu sacrifices himself for the two others to escape, the film makes no attempt to conceal what they are returning to once their role as war heroes is over.
It's long been one of the revered classics of international cinema, but there is no fine layer of dust over La Grande Illusion. Jean Renoir's film is just as vibrant, exciting and wise as it has ever been. The story is set during World War I, mostly in a couple of German POW camps, where two very different French prisoners plot to escape: the working-class officer Maréchal (Jean Gabin, the French Spencer Tracy) and the upper-class de Boieldieu (Pierre Fresnay). The suspenseful backbone of the story is formed by these escape attempts, but Renoir is primarily concerned with the way people treat each other, and especially with how class and nationality inform human relations. Most compelling of all the film's characters is the aristocratic German officer von Rauffenstein, unforgettably incarnated by stiff-backed Erich von Stroheim; although he runs a prison camp, von Rauffenstein cannot help but strike up a friendship with de Boieldieu, a kindred spirit from the doomed nobility. There is nothing dewy or naive about Renoir's vision (and two years after the release of this antiwar film, Europe was plunged into another world war), yet La Grande Illusion is one of those movies that makes you feel good about such long-outmoded ideas as sacrifice and brotherhood. After it won a prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1937, the Nazis declared the film "Cinematographic Enemy Number One". There can be no higher praise. --Robert Horton, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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 may think otherwise. It doesn't really matter a lot.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Excellent item as described. Prompt dispatch, safe and sound. Top marks.Published 6 months ago by P. F. Tracgransglaws
like watching all your favourite prisoner of war films wrapped into one. The origin of Escape from Colditz and the Great Escape.. Read morePublished 11 months ago by C. J. Boorman
Any film by Jean Renoir is worth owning and making a part of one's collection, but this is a standout, and perhaps one of the greatest films ever made. Read morePublished 12 months ago by an acquaintance
Jean Renoirs masterly POW movie is also one of the most unusual war movies ever made .Instead of showing prisoners escaping and getting one up on the enemy the movie tells us that... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Brendan Keane
This is the best edition of Renoir's masterpiece out there... and that includes the Criterion's DVD edition. Read morePublished 17 months ago by M. Parker
Rather different cultural and humane point of view on the relationship between combatants and purpose of it all. Nice to hear it in French .Published 17 months ago by Zdenek Hanzlik
I have been watching this film on and off since I was a student. It still mesmerises . A masterpiece.Published 17 months ago by D. Warren Piper