La Grande illusion (Grand Illusion) - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

La Grande illusion (Grand Illusion) Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ September 26, 2013
An apparently simple yet notably complex film that uses a subtle approach to explore a gamut of humanistic themes, and Renoir avoids any sort of sentimentality, which can also be seen from the elegant way that his camera seems to float, unaffected, among the characters.
Bathsheba Monk
Super Reviewer
July 7, 2012
This movie expertly depicts class warfare--no, it's not a new thing, it's been around forever competing with nationalism. As a college student in Germany, I had to watch this movie about 5 times and dissect it from all angles: historical, sociological, as well as literature and I never got sick of it. This movie really depicts the utter senselessness of war--how lost soldiers will take up with enemy women for succor and warmth and vice versa and how the officers (the aristocrats of the day, the 1%)inhabit a much different world than the hoi polloi. I am looking forward to seeing the remastered film as when I saw it, it was physically pretty damaged.
Super Reviewer
May 6, 2011
Experiência cinematografica cinco estrelas. Um filme que quase desapareceu da história do cinema mundial.
Super Reviewer
½ January 31, 2011
A powerful forefather in promoting a political ideology through narrative film, Grand Illusion is at least fifty times more sensible than Birth of a Nation in that regard. I'm really not sure how I feel about the third act, though. It's touching...but completely without conflict. I guess it speaks to a simpler time in film, where economy of writing wasn't of absolute importance and not every moment in the screenplay had to fulfill some greater mechanical purpose, but it stresses its point in an awfully longwinded way.
Super Reviewer
½ September 9, 2009
The film is consistently ranked as one of the brightest stars in the cinematic firmament. It's a notoriety that unfortunately detracts from a modern moviegoer's first viewing of the picture. Is it the greatest masterpiece ever committed to celluloid? Hardly, but the terrific characterizations subtly reinforce the futility of combat. Why are these honorable people fighting? Director and co-writer Jean Renoir's experiences as a soldier shape much of his view of it as a "war of gentlemen". Perhaps a poignant lament of an attitude that the world on the brink of another global conflict, would never see again. This is a war film without a single battle and only one death. The portrait is such an anomaly in this genre. An overly idealistic view to be sure, but too eloquent to forget.
Super Reviewer
½ February 8, 2011
I feel like I will be killed for not giving it 5 stars. The acting is unstoppable and I understand the message about a new social order coming to uproot the old, but it just didn't blow me away. Ok, you can kill me now
Super Reviewer
January 24, 2007
often considered one of the great films of all time, grand illusion is a war epic set in a perfect 3 act structure. possibly renoir's best directing job and gabin was brilliant as always. the portrayal of the war was surprising but eye opening and the escape sequence was crafted well. a true classic.
Super Reviewer
½ January 11, 2009
A series of German POW camps provide Renior's La Grande Illusion with a framework from which to illustrate social inequity. Two captured French airmen, one a well-to-do career officer and the other a former mechanic, discover that, even in prison, their class distinctions still wedge them apart. This socio-political undercurrent adds to the tension as the prisoners work feverishly to effect an escape.

A milestone film that no doubt influenced later offerings like Stalag 17 (1953), The Great Escape (1963) and Hart's War (2002).
Bill D 2007
Super Reviewer
½ July 20, 2009
"Grand Illusion" is yet another film that was up for Best Picture in 1938, the only foreign-language film so honored. It's quite ironic that at the very time Nazi Germany was plotting to crush France and annihilate Jews, Communists, and homosexuals, the French filmmaker Jean Renoir was creating an anti-war film that humanized Germans.

Set in World War I, "Grand Illusion" presents French and German soldiers as sharing a common humanity. The Germans who run a prisoner-of-war camp are humane, balanced and thoughtful. They think highly of their French prisoners and rub shoulders with them frequently. The head of the camp (played by Erich von Stroheim) is an aristocrat who cares more about music and literature than warfare. The idea that French and German people are different is presented as a ridiculous illusion.

The film ends well, but there are so many dull passages to endure before you get there. The direction is also terribly pedestrian. Renoir never does a single interesting thing with the camera. The script moves along too slowly, and the artless direction only makes it worse. I like what the film has to say, but I'm not very impressed with how it says it. In addition to more flavorful direction and snappier editing, the film needed more story development. There is simply not enough drama or characterization.

Only in the last 30 minutes did I really start to care, when there's a fabulous sequence between two escaped prisoners and an angelic German widow they befriend on their march to the Swiss border. This final sequence had a spiritual and emotional quality that the first three-quarters of the film lacked.
Super Reviewer
½ November 18, 2007
it's the mother of all prison escape films!
Super Reviewer
February 16, 2008
I guess I was expecting more. Good film overall.
Super Reviewer
November 2, 2006
It might get a little droll but the ending is well worth it.
Super Reviewer
April 16, 2016
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels had declared Jean Renoir's 1937 film "Grand Illusion" to be "Cinematic Public Enemy #1" and ordered all prints to be confiscated and destroyed. Even Renoir's own country banned the film in 1940 for as long as the war should last. Once France fell to Nazi Germany, the Nazis seized the prints and all negatives of the film. The original nitrate film negative was thought to have been destroyed in an Allied air raid and lost but prints of the film were rediscovered in 1958 and rereleased in the early 1960's. Then it was revealed that the original negative was shipped back to Berlin and was stored at the Reichsfilmarchiv. After the war the Reichsfilmarchiv happened to be in the Russian zone where the negative was then sent to Moscow. It would be returned to France in the 1960's, but would remain undiscovered until the 1990's, because many thought it was gone. It was rediscovered while the Cinematheque was transferring their nitrate negatives to the French Film Archives. It was rereleased to theaters in 1999.
Renoir was the son of French impressionist painter Pierre Auguste-Renior but was mainly raised by Gabrielle Renard, his nanny and mother's cousin. Renard introduced him to Guignol puppet shows in Montmartre, France, which would influence his film career. Writing in his 1974 memoirs, Renoir said, "She taught me to see the face behind the mask and the fraud behind the flourishes. She taught me to detest the cliché." Renard also introduced him to the new invention of motion pictures taking him to see his first film as a young boy. Renoir would often be featured in many of his father's paintings and due to his father's success, he was schooled at fashionable boarding houses.
When World War I broke out in August 1914, Renoir joined the French cavalry. He later served as a reconnaissance pilot after receiving a bullet in the leg. He would walk with a limp the rest of his life, but while recovering from his leg injury he was able to discover the world of cinema through the works of Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith while he recuperated. At the suggestion of his father, Renoir started working with ceramics after the war, but soon felt compelled to take a hand at film, being influenced by the films of Erich von Stroheim. In 1924, he would make his first of nine silent films.
He gained international success during the 1930's but it wasn't until 1937's "Grand Illusion," that he solidified his stature as a great filmmaker. "Grand Illusion" was not only, arguably, his best film, but was the first foreign film ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture of the Year. The idea for the film was influenced by an old friend of Renoir named Pinsard, who was now the commander of an air base near where Renoir was filming the 1935 film "Toni." Pinsard recalled the numerous times he escaped German POW camps during World War I and Renoir believed this would make an interesting film. Renoir had Pinsard write everything down and spoke to more POW's and then added his own wartime experiences. He and Charles Spaak wrote the screenplay together.
There are three main French characters that come from different aspects of life, one an aristocrat named Captain de Boeldieu, played by veteran French stage actor Pierre Fresnay; working class Lieutenant Marechal, played by the most popular French screen actor at the time Jean Gabin; and a Jew named Lieutenant Rosenthal played by one of Renoir's favorite actors Marcel Dalio.
After de Boeldieu and Marechal are shot down by a German aviator and aristocrat named Rittmeister von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim, most well known for his role as Norma Desmond's butler in Billy Wilder's 1950 film "Sunset Boulevard") while on a reconnaissance mission. They are captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp. Upon arriving they meet their fellow prisoners and Marechal learns of a plan to escape through a tunnel the prisoners have been digging for two months. The escape element of the film has been copied and imitated in such films as "The Great Escape," "Stalag 17" and "The Great Raid." This may be the main goal of these characters, this is hardly what the film is about.
This is a "war film" that is so far removed from the trenches, such as when the prisoners attempt to put on a musical revue full with costumes sent from Rosenthal's family in Paris. Leading up to the performance the Germans announce that their army had taken Fort Douamont in what will go down as the bloodiest battle in the war, the Battle of Verdun. The prisoners think they should cancel the performance, but Marechal says that this was all the more reason to put the show on and that they should also invite the German officers. In what is possibly the film's second best scene, it is during the performance that word comes that the French has retaken the fort, prompting Marechal to interrupt the show. An Englishman in drag then leads the prisoners in a singing of the French national anthem "La Marseillaise" as Renoir slowly moves the camera around to show the French and English soldiers singing and the German soldiers reacting to this news. Marechal is then put in solitary confinement and it's ironic that during this time the fort is recaptured by the Germans, as if their celebration was futile and premature. As soon as Marechal is released from solitary confinement the prisoners are told they are being moved to another camp, so the escape is off.
At the new camp, Stroheim's character Rauffenstein is reintroduced. He is so stiff and proper like what a Prussian aristocrat in the German army should act. In contrast to Gabin's Marechal he looks regal. His perfect white gloves, monocle and corset all add to his performance. Rauffenstein is happy to see de Boeldieu. He shows his new prisoners around the prison and he and de Boeldieu often lapse into speaking English to one another. Rauffenstein even apologizes to de Boeldieu that he couldn't give him his own room, to which de Boeldieu responds that he never would've accepted. Marechal and Rosenthal continue plotting their escape in their new camp.
Some scenes show the prisoners talking about the outside world and suggesting that they conveniently forgotten problems of the outside. That life in the POW camp is a lot better than the trenches. There are so many scenes where soldiers of all nationalities feel a kindred spirit with one another, a brotherhood, so to say. They feel sympathetic towards one another. They all know what each other is going through, even the German officers are sympathetic to their prisoners.
There's a scene where the Russians receive a crate they believe is full of vodka and caviar and wish to share it with the French prisoners as gratitude for their kindness. When opening the crate they find that it is full of books on geometry, algebra and cook books. The Russians are so mad that they set fire to the books prompting one Frenchman to get extremely upset and scream that they can't burn books and that it is just wrong. Obviously an attack on what is happening in Nazi Germany at the time, it's very poignant and just one of many powerful scenes.
The many officers and soldiers of World War I may be separated by language, culture and nationality, but there is no denying they share the same experiences. This is not a war film, but an anti-war film that celebrates humanity, a humanity that transcends national and racial borders. This is a film that tells the audience that the war to end all wars didn't solve anything, war never solves anything. With World War II on the horizon and the threat of Hitler and the Nazis, Renoir the pacifist dreads what will happen next. As Hitler screams about annexing Czechoslovakia on the radio, Renoir is tenderly speaking out against such aggression using the art of cinema to ask of his audience, "Have we learned nothing?"
Super Reviewer
½ May 7, 2012
Many see in this celebrated film the 'humanism' of Jean Renoir but seem to miss the pessimism that goes along with it. Yes, there are some extremely humanistic scenes here (like the very touching scene in which a German guard gives cigarettes and plays the harmonica to calm a distressed Jean Gabin), but 'humanism' here only means a sympathetic view on human predicament. For example the isolation (which is a class isolation) of Von Rauffenstein (Stroheim) and his need for an 'equal' friendship is touching despite his ideas about nobility being problematic. In fact all the characters can be seen under a sympathetic light but at the same time, their behaviour is part of the whole problem which is war and conflict. It is astonishing how this film hides its true pessimistic identity under the charm of a comedy of manners. But manners -differences and similarities in them- are what lies at the core of the film, and how they create conflict. For example see the first shot at the French bar with Gabin listening to music and then see the equivalent of the German bar after Rauffenstein has shot the French plane. (Notice that we learn that the plane was shot only by dialogue; in other words Renoir looses the chance to present us with an exciting action scene, a plane-fight, that a Hollywood director would have seized immediately, only to sustain the rhythm of the film and juxtapose the two scenes.) There's a symmetrical feeling in many instances in the film, a juxtaposition of sides - they are the same and yet different.
Notice also the tune the prisoners play during the escape - the actual song (although we do not hear the lyrics, it is a famous song) of that song are brutal and very relevant to the pessimism of the film. The somewhat obscure title also betrays that, if we take it that the words of the protagonists at the end of the film are the key to interpreting it: the great illusion is that the war will quickly end. Renoir who took part on the great war himself was surely aware about the attitude of people to the war at the beginning of it. They all were cheerful and sure that the war would end in the first months after its beginning (Stephan Zweig gives a nice description of European psychology at the time in his The World of Yesterday). The film ridicules this attitude as well as the manners and chivalry during the war (see Rauffenstein inviting his new prisoners to dinner). But the statement of the film, that the illusion is that the war will end, transcends the WWI context and becomes, unintentionally maybe, a description of human nature in general - a nature which can take so many different forms (Russians, Germans, French, English) and yet is so much the same; a nature which has war in its very nature. The last long shot with the two escapees walking in the snow, crossing the borders, while we know that they are going back to their army to continue the fight couldn't be a more pessimistic end then.
Super Reviewer
April 17, 2013
Grand Illusion was gutsy for its era in providing a critique of war in an era when war seemed inevitable. There is humour, emotion and pure humanity.
Super Reviewer
½ December 14, 2008
During an interview with Dick Cavett during the mid-'70s, Woody Allen proclaimed that he considered only 2 films as true works of art: one was L'Avventura, and the other was Grand Illusion.

My expectations were quite lofty so the experience was something of a letdown. Nevertheless, Grand Illusion influenced such great films as Stalag-17 and Casablanca with a not-quite-as-stirring rendition of 'La Marsellaise' that enrages German officers. The messages of similarity beyond borders & politics and the hypocrisies of war still ring true. This is as languidly paced a war film as you're likely to see, especially following the final escape attempt. I appreciate the historical importance of Grand Illusion but prefer the greater complexity and urgency of several of its followers.
Over the Rising Sun
Super Reviewer
August 19, 2010
A French WWI war prison film that's not as much technically brilliant as it successfully expresses the moral, philosophical, and humanistic errors of war, as well as benefiting from an acute sense of humor and Jean Gabin's performance. The anti-semetic remarks near the end were a little uncalled for though. 99/100
Super Reviewer
July 1, 2010
Aside from it being generally praised as one of the finest films ever made, it's also unique in its presentation of its anti-war message with utmost simplicity. Half of "Grand Illusion" dealt with French soldiers in a German prison camp, and their constant plans for escapes. With these basic premises, one can predict that the prison guards in the film were no less than tyrannical madmen, headed by a (insert negative trait here)general. But no, Jean Renoir explained it himself in the film's introduction, "It's a war of gentlemen". It's a conflict fueled not by grudges but more of noble obligations. Many sequences furthered this point, with guards socializing with the prisoners with mutual respect and uncommon camaraderie. Many anti-war films strengthened their aims by highlighting war violence as the main catalyst of madness, but once again, "Grand Illusion" is an exception, and considering the time it was made, its revolutionary stance for pacifism was inclined more for the simple idea of soldiers reuniting with families, and coming back for mundane leisure activities, not with cinematic overkill of armchair politics. Erich Von Stroheim, whom I first saw on screen as Norma Desmond's enigmatic butler in "Sunset Blvd.", is unforgettable as Rauffenstein.
November 17, 2015
Grand Illusion is an unquestioned masterpiece. It belongs on any short list of the greatest movies of all time.

In 1937, film acting was still almost always stiff and mannered. When looking at films of this era, one often grades them on a curve. No one expects Method acting, no one expects natural dialogue that sounds like how humans actually speak.

By the thirties, we were in our first real generation of film actors; no longer were movies burdened with hack stage actors who never learned how to modify their performances for this much more intimate medium, as in the early silent era. For nearly 30 years, Mary Pickford had been showing actors how relate emotions with simple, honest reactions. But in 1937, it was still difficult to find movies that weren't marred with one-dimensional characters and hokey acting styles.

Grand Illusion's performances breathe with unparalleled natural humanity. Every actor in the movie rings true, most of all Jean Gabin, who would be a star in any generation. Pierre Fresnay evokes an early day Trevor Howard with the subtle nobility of his Captain Boeldieu. No one ever sounds like they are acting. Everyone is just TALKING, every word they say sounds true. The acting alone in this movie is 30 years ahead of its time.

However, I'm not going to let this review get too rosy. This is a war movie without battle scenes. It mostly takes place in officers' POW camps. The German commandants, especially Erich Von Stroheim's Von Rauffenstein, go out of their way to make internment comfortable for their prisoners. Prisoners are lightly punished when they are caught attempting escape. They allow the prisoners to receive packages from home, sometimes permitting the prisoners to eat better than the German guards. Things don't even really get hard for the characters until they escape and start their long hard trek to the Swiss border.

Honestly, these camps don't seem like a terrible way to ride out a war. Why escape the camp, rejoin your regiment and get thrown back to the front lines? Could internment like this have possibly existed in the reality of a famously brutal war like World War I, a war where the treatment of POWs required the initiation of the Geneva Conventions after its conclusion?

Of course not. Grand Illusion is a rosy, unrealistic depiction of war - the truly grandest of illusions. One might even call it a Hollywood treatment of war, except that even the most whitewashed American war drama wouldn't attempt a portrayal of war with such minimal hardships.

This is not really a war movie. It's about the bringing together of men of different nations, different social strata, different points of view, and how they bond under the stress of looming death. It's about the differences and the similarities between us all. It's not a realistic depiction of war. It is still a masterpiece.
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