La Grande illusion (Grand Illusion)

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For its 75th Anniversary, Rialto Pictures presents a stunning 4K restoration of GRAND ILLUSION, Jean Renoir's powerful and eloquent anti-war film set during World War I. Aristocratic Captain de Boeldieu and his mechanic, Lieutenant Maréchal are shot down by Captain von Rauffenstein, who treats them with customary officers' hospitality. The two downed pilots are then sent to a German POW camp, where they quickly join a group of prisoners who have concocted an elaborate escape plan. Their plot is foiled, however, as they are transferred to a new camp, the formidable Wintersborn fortress, run by Rauffenstein, who is now grounded due to battle wounds. Rauffenstein, lamenting the end of an aristocratic era, tries to befriend de Boeldieu, but the French captain is already hatching a new escape plan - one in which he puts himself in danger to allow the others to escape. GRAND ILLUSION was the first foreign film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination.


Jean Gabin
as Lieutenant Maréchal
Pierre Fresnay
as Capt. de Boeldieu
Erich von Stroheim
as Von Rauffenstein
Marcel Dalio
as Rosenthal
Dita Parlo
as Elsa Farm Woman
Julien Carette
as The Actor
Jacques Becker
as An English Officer
Gaston Modot
as The engineer
Georges Péclet
as A French Soldier
Jean Daste
as The Teacher
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News & Interviews for La Grande illusion (Grand Illusion)

Critic Reviews for La Grande illusion (Grand Illusion)

All Critics (66) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (64) | Rotten (2)

  • The greatest World War I movie ever made (and there were lots of good ones)...

    Nov 3, 2018 | Full Review…
  • This elegy for the death of the old European aristocracy is one of the true masterpieces of the screen.

    Jan 2, 2018 | Full Review…
  • It's among the most understated anti-war films ever made, effortlessly humanistic but far too subtle to indulge in preaching.

    Jun 7, 2012 | Rating: A | Full Review…
  • A model of simplicity and grace, with emotional effects that move you when you least expect it, the kind of great film that only a master can pull off.

    May 17, 2012 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • Funny, heart-wrenching, nail-biting, caustic and profound, touting the futility of armed combat while turning imprisonment and escape into a microcosm for society's aspirations and contradictions.

    May 8, 2012 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • The great illusion is that these men of the officer class are somehow different from the masses who suffered the bloodiest of wars. Renoir proves that they are not.

    Apr 6, 2012 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for La Grande illusion (Grand Illusion)

  • Apr 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?"
    Joseph B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 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 in the elegant way that his camera seems to float, unaffected, among the characters.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Apr 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.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 07, 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.
    Bathsheba M Super Reviewer

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