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on 11 April 2017
Classic anti-war French film
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on 20 September 2017
great oldie. delivery was quick
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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.

Strongly recommended!
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 3 January 2015
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 ...
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 July 2012
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 may think 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.
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on 24 March 2017
Be warned: "Terrible subtitles, way too tiny and they become invisible as they blend into the background" wrote a two star reviewer of this 75th Anniversary edition DVD. They are indeed shockingly awful. The worst quality subtitles I have ever seen over many years of watching subtitled films. The film is virtually unwatchable because of it. I gave up after 15 minutes. Extraordinary contempt shown by Studio Canal in not getting this right. I returned the DVD to Amazon.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 October 2010
"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.

Jean Renoir was a Communist and a humanist who looked at the proletariat with an unusually sympathetic eye, and if this magnificent film does anything, it clearly lays out the rigid class distinctions of the period. The acting is uniformly topnotch. It is, of course, beautifully and expressively filmed: the scenes in the ancient castle, retrofitted to be what was considered to be an impossible to escape prisoner of war camp, where Rauffenstein rules, are simply superb. It also illustrates one more time, though it was hardly needed, that Gabin was catnip to women. Renoir has been quoted as saying that people told him he made a great anti-war movie in 1937, but movies clearly don't have any influence on real life, because three years later World War II, the most destructive of all wars, broke out. However, the fact that "Grand Illusion" hasn't prevented any wars doesn't mean that you shouldn't see it.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 7 March 2009
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.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 17 March 2010
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 30 November 2003
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.
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