The Grand Illusion
Dir: Jean Renoir
Scrs: Jean Renoir, Charles Spaak
Pho: Christian Matras
Eds: Marthe Huguet, Marguerite Renoir
Prod Co.: Réalisations d'Art Cinématographique
Cast: Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim, Dita Parlo
France / 1937 / B&W / DCP / French / Eng Subtitles / 114min
Praised as one of the greatest films of all-time, Jean Renoir's 1937 masterpiece also ranks as one of cinema's most profound anti-war statements. Veering away from the hardships and desperation of the trenches, The Grand Illusion instead follows a small group of French officers and their attempts to escape from a succession of German POW camps in 1914.
Jean Gabin was at the height of his fame when he portrayed Lieutenant Maréchal, a fighter pilot shot down behind enemy lines. His ragged charms and effortless cool are brilliantly countered by the clipped fastidiousness of Pierre Fresnay's well-bred Captain de Boeldieu. Together with Marcel Dalio's wealthy Jewish officer, Rosenthal, they enjoy a relatively comfortable incarceration, while plotting their escape.
Renoir strips away the social divides between his characters, exposing all men as equal in the face of war. This sentiment is accentuated by Erich von Stroheim's aristocratic officer Von who shot down Maréchal and de Boeldieu, and assumes command of the escape-proof Wintersborn. Von Rauffenstein insists on treating his prisoners with dignity and humanity, in a manner that jarred with audiences on the brink of entering World War II.
Paul Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany, branded the film "Cinematic Public Enemy No.1", and set out to destroy every print he could seize. France also objected to Renoir's pacifist message, but in the USA The Grand Illusion became the first foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture. For many years thought to be a casualty of WWII, an original negative was eventually discovered in the 1990s, in La Cinémathèque de Toulouse.
On the occasion of its 75th anniversary, StudioCanal partnered with La Cinémath que de Toulouse to present a brand-new restoration in 2011. L’Immagine Ritrovata was entrusted to carry out 4K scanning and restoration of the nitrate negative, thus giving to the images their entire dimension, absolutely sublime.
||Cinema, Hong Kong Film Archive
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