Saturday 29 December 2012

La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion) [1937]

Filled with understated humour, wry observations and humanism, Renoir’s Grand Illusion was both a deeply anti-war film and a subtle commentary on societal differences borne out of class, race and nationalities. Captain de Boieldieu (Pierre Fesnay), an aristocratic senior officer, and Lt. Marechal (Jean Gabin), a proletariat pilot, are taken captive in a German POW camp, commanded by Captain von Rauffenstein (Renoir’s idol, Erich von Stroheim), during a reconnaissance mission. After numerous failed attempts, Marechal finally manages to escape along with a Jewish inmate, and they take refuge in the home of a lonely German widow (Dita Parlo) during the course of their arduous journey. Renoir painted a deftly textured picture on the utter futility of war. And, by displaying such anachronistic gentlemanly conduct between the two parties, the film’s grandest illusion was brilliantly depicted – made starker on hindsight by the horrors that WWII has become synonymous with. Yet, for all its poetic realism and its humane portrayal of men and women trapped in the cogs of world politics, Renoir also provided a sly peek into our ingrained social barriers. Boieldieu and Rauffenstein, despite belonging to opposite camps nationally, are bound by their aristocratic heritage and mores; ironically, Marechal and his fellow escapee are naturally strung together by their class and nationality, but the question of race lingers at the back of their minds. Boieldieu and Marechal, despite their national obligations, represent inherently opposing social orders. Luminously photographed and excellently enacted, these paradoxical sociopolitical subtexts, and the juxtaposition of old and new orders, made this a universally relevant masterwork whose resonance has only increased with the passage of time.

Director: Jean Renoir
Genre: Drama/War Drama/Prison Drama
Language: French
Country: France


Sam Juliano said...

One of the greatest anti-War films ever made, and for many Renoir's supreme masterpiece. In this dense and heady capsule you economically peel away the gauze to unveal it's thematic and artistic greatness, which you rightly note has stood the test of time. When Rauffenstein cuts the flower from his gerenium in a mournful gesture for his friend the moment is transcendent.

Terrific review of one of the cinema's great masterpieces.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam for the kind appreciation. I absolutely loved the understated way in which Renoir portrayed the film's anti-war & class difference themes. Your too provided a marvelous summary of this classic.