Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Grand Illusion (1937)

Originally entitled "The Escapes of Captain Maréchal".

Although the location of the film is different than the recent film Merry Christmas, it presents a side of the "Great War" that was covered in my history classes but then the horrors of the war was emphasized more as in "All Quiet on the Western Front".

Frequently cited as both one of the greatest films about war and one of the greatest films ever made, Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion is an often witty, sometimes poignant, frequently moving examination of the futility of war. During World War I, twoFrench airmen are shot down while taking surveillance photographs in German territory: Capt. de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), a wealthy and aristocratic officer; Lt. Maréchal (Jean Gabin), a burly but intelligent working-class mechanic. The three are brought to a P.O.W. camp, where they encounter and befriend Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio), a prosperous Jewish banker, and the commander, Von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), takes an immediate liking to de Boeldieu.They are members of the same social class and believe that the political and intellectual ideals of the Europe they once knew will soon be a thing of the past with the rise to power of the proletariat. The three Frenchmen discover that their fellow prisoners have been digging an escape tunnel, and all of them agree to help -- Maréchal and Rosenthal with enthusiasm, de Boeldieu out of a sense of duty. As he puts it, when on a golf course, one plays golf, and while in a prison camp, one tries to escape -- it's the accepted thing to do. As Von Rauffenstein and de Boeldieu become friends, and the rank-and-file soldiers banter as much with the German guards as with each other, the characters seem involved less in a war than in some vast, petty game, albeit one with deadly consequences; they often talk about women and food, while never mentioning political ideology. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

Running Time: 114 mins
Grand Illusion (1937)

About the Title (excerpts):
Ideally, Grand Illusion should be The Great Illusion. As critics pointed out at the time of the film's 1937 release, the title was apparently inspired by a famous essay called "The Great Illusion," by British internationalist and economist Norman Angell. First published in 1909 as "Europe's Optical Illusion" and expanded the following year under its more famous title, Angell's book, which argued that the common economic interests of nations made war futile, was translated into 25 languages and sold some two million copies. Its populatrity endured well into the 1930s in France.

Goebbels had condemned it as "Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1."

Again the commentator added much value to the film for explaining the many nuances that I missed on the first time. But I have to say, I still do not completely get the reason for the title. And according to the commentator, the final title was not given until late in the production of the film. Thus only a 3.5 rating for myself.

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