by guest writer
La Grande Illusion (1937) attracts firstly from the point of view of the bond created between the characters. True, well-rounded characters, one of the elements that make this a great classic. The movie, set in the First World War, states its case by saying that nations are divided only by national frontiers or class differences. What has impressed me the most at Jean Renoir’s imperishable masterpiece is how strongly humanist it is. The way the director portrays wartime enemies reaching across divisions is striking. Egalitarian is in fact what defines Renoir’s cinema in general. There are no heroes or villains in his films. The three prisoners of war in La Grande Illusion are working class, middle class and aristocratic, united in brotherhood. There is also established a common ground between men of different nationalities, sharing the same hobbies or professions in real life: Maréchal, played by Jean Gabin, and the German mechanic. A unity that surpasses nationality differences this time.
As with many of Jean Renoir’s films, which were commercially unsuccessful, this one fit the pattern, only to be recognized years later as one of the greatest movies of all time. This is my favourite war movie, and that’s because it’s an anti-war film, an active critic of the wrongs that mankind is doing voluntarily. As for the filming style, the movie helped Renoir perfect a technique that would define his cinema: shooting the actors in close-up and then following their movements, a remarkable technique that the director said it brought him some of his most thrilling moments, both in his films and in those of other directors.
photo: still from the film / credit: Réalisations d’Art Cinématographique