La Grande illusion


La Grande illusion
(1937)
   Film. One of the best-known films by legendary director Jean Renoir, La Grande illusion is a sweeping commentary on war, class, and nationalism. Set during World War I, the film was released just prior to World War II, and it is often seen as anticipating and denouncing the war that was to come. The story of several French prisoners of war, the film focuses on the aristocratic Captain De Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and the working-class Lieutenant Marechal (Jean Gabin). While in prison camp, the two also befriend a third man, the Jewish Frenchman Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio), the son of wealthy bankers.
   During the course of the film, the characters attempt escape, but do not, at first, succeed. They are later separated but are reunited when they find they have all been transferred to another camp, this time in a fortress. The camp is commanded by the German aristocrat Von Rauffenstein (Eric Von Stroheim), and during the time the three men are at the fortress, it becomes clear that class affinities tie De Boeldieu and Rauffenstein, despite their different nationalities. In fact, at one point the two meditate nostalgically on the old order, in which class was the defining pole of identity, and during which the European aristocracies were not divided by national lines. Von Rauffenstein also treats Marechal and Rosenthal with a high degree of humanity and hospitality, which shows that common humanity can supersede class. The three men ultimately attempt escape, but De Boeldieu is shot by Von Rauffenstein and dies.
   The film's antiwar sentiment is clear, if not overt. The shooting of De Boeldieu, in particular functions as a critique of war. Von Rauffenstein so regrets his act that he holds a vigil at De Boeldieu's deathbed. The film makes it clear that what unites the two men is more significant than what divides them, and the act of shooting De Boeldieu is depicted as meaningless, although compelled, in the logic of war, by duty. Similarly, when Marechal and Rosenthal hide on the farm of a German war widow, Elsa (Dita Parlo), it is clear that the war and the idea of nation that motivates the war are less real than the human identification that takes place, particularly between Marechal and Elsa. The final comment on the senselessness of war and of the artificiality of the nations that engage in them occurs in the final scene, in which Marechal and Rosenthal cross the border into France — a border that cannot be seen because it is an imaginary construct.
   La Grande illusion is firmly rooted in Le Réalisme poétique or poetic realism, although its subject matter renders it slightly different from other films of the wave. It shares with these films the presentation of characters from various classes and walks of life, the exploration of the human condition, and a certain pessimism with regard to the ability of individuals to transcend societal convention and so to achieve meaningful relationships with one another. It also shares the chiaroscuro lighting and the impressionistic tendency to use camera work and mise-en-scène to convey fairly abstract human qualities, such as mental and emotional states, and, in this film in particular, the interconnectedness of human beings. The film is widely considered one of the great films of world cinema.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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  • La grande illusion — Filmdaten Deutscher Titel: Die große Illusion Originaltitel: La grande illusion Produktionsland: Frankreich Erscheinungsjahr: 1937 Länge: 120 Minuten Originalsprache: Französisch …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • La Grande Illusion (homonymie) —  Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différentes œuvres portant le même titre. La Grande Illusion (The Great Illusion), essai de Norman Angell (1909) La Grande Illusion, film de Jean Renoir (1937) La grande illusion, l un des titres de l… …   Wikipédia en Français

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