Thursday, March 29, 2012
Jean Renoir The Grand Illusion
Grand Illusion (The Criterion Collection)
Grand Illusion (French: La Grande Illusion) is a 1937 French war film directed by Jean Renoir, who co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Spaak. The story concerns class relationships among a small group of French officers who are prisoners of war during World War I and are plotting an escape.
The title of the film comes from a book—The Great Illusion by British economist Norman Angell—which argued that war is futile because of the common economic interests of all European nations. The perspective of the film is generously humanistic to its characters of various nationalities.
It is regarded by critics and film historians as one of the masterpieces of French cinema and among the greatest films ever made. Orson Welles named Grand Illusion as one of the movies he would take with him "on the ark." Empire magazine ranked it #35 in "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.
Jean Gabin as Lieutenant Maréchal, a French officer
Marcel Dalio as Lieutenant Rosenthal, a French officer
Pierre Fresnay as Captain de Boeldieu, a French officer
Erich von Stroheim as Captain von Rauffenstein, a German officer
Dita Parlo as Elsa, a widowed German farm woman
Julien Carette as Cartier, the vaudeville performer
Gaston Modot as an engineer
Georges Péclet as an officer
Werner Florian as Sgt. Arthur
Jean Dasté as a teacher
Sylvain Itkine as Lieutenant Demolder
For many years, the original nitrate film negative was thought to have been lost in an Allied air raid in 1942 that destroyed a leading laboratory outside Paris. Prints of the film were rediscovered in 1958 and restored and re-released during the early 1960s. Then, it was revealed that the original negative had been shipped back to Berlin (probably due to the efforts of Frank Hensel) to be stored in the Reichsfilmarchiv vaults. In the Allied occupation of Berlin in 1945, the Reichsfilmarchiv by chance was in the Russian zone and consequently shipped along with many other films back to be the basis of the Soviet Gosfilmofond film archive in Moscow. The negative was returned to France in the 1960s, but sat unidentified in storage in Toulouse Cinémathèque for over 30 years, as no one suspected it had survived. It was rediscovered in the early 1990s as the Cinémathèque's nitrate collection was slowly being transferred to the French Film Archives at Bois d'Arcy.
In August 1999, Rialto Pictures re-released the film in the United States, based on the Cinematheque negative found in Toulouse; after watching the new print at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Janet Maslin called it "beautifully refurbished" and "especially lucid." The print was restored and released as the inaugural DVD of the Criterion Collection
In Grand Illusion, director Jean Renoir uses the First World War (1914–1918) as a lens through which to examine Europe as it faces the rising spectre of fascism (especially in Nazi Germany) and the impending approach of the Second World War (1939–1945). Renoir's critique of contemporary politics and ideology celebrates the universal humanity that transcends national and racial boundaries and radical nationalism, suggesting that mankind's common experiences should prevail above political division, and its extension: war.
On the message of the film, Renoir himself said, in a film trailer dating from the re-release of the film in 1958:
"[Grand Illusion is] a story about human relationships. I am confident that such a question is so important today that if we don’t solve it, we will just have to say ‘goodbye’ to our beautiful world."