During the First World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German POW camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.
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Slovakia during WW2. Tono lives a poor life, but the authorities offer him to take over the Jewish widow Lautman's little shop for sewing material. She is old and confused and thinks that ... See full summary »
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The location: Nazi occupied Rome. As Rome is classified an open city, most Romans can wander the streets without fear of the city being bombed or them being killed in the process. But life ... See full summary »
During 1st WW, two French officers are captured. Captain De Boeldieu is an aristocrat while Lieutenant Marechal was a mechanic in civilian life. They meet other prisoners from various backgrounds, as Rosenthal, son of wealthy Jewish bankers. They are separated from Rosenthal before managing to escape. A few months later, they meet again in a fortress commanded by the aristocrat Van Rauffenstein. De Boeldieu strikes up a friendship with him but Marechal and Rosenthal still want to escape... Written by
Fort Douaumont was the largest fort in the defenses of Verdun. It was taken by the Germans on February 24th 1916 and recaptured by the French on October 24th 1916 as part of the Battle of Verdun (February 21st 1916 to December 18th 1916). The recapture of the fort is estimated to have cost the French army 100,000 casualties. The selection of this battle for the film is significant as German and French historians often use the battle to represent the horrors of the Great War. Estimates of total deaths (French and German) range around the 300,000 mark, with total casualties between 750,000 and 1,000,000. Note also that Elsa's husband was killed at the battle for Verdun. See more »
When Boeldieu is dead, Rauffenstein wants to close his eyes with his hand. When the hand of Rauffenstein gets close to Boeldieu, his eye moves. See more »
Franklin Roosevelt said of it: "Everyone who believes in democracy should see this film". Mussolini banned it in Italy, and Hitler's Ministry of Propaganda banned it in Nazi Germany. The film vanished during WWII, and was thought to have been destroyed. Then it was recovered in 1946, but in an altered state. Decades would then pass before the original negative could be confirmed.
The Nazis hated the film because of its pacifist, anti-war, theme. The setting for the film is Germany in 1914, during WWI. Germans capture several French officers and take them to a POW camp, specifically for officers. After several escape attempts, the French officers get shuffled off to a presumably escape proof castle, run by Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), a flamboyant German officer with a forbidding persona.
Unlike other war movies, "La Grande Illusion" shows no actual combat, and the number of deaths is minimal. The film's tone is surprisingly lighthearted. Writer/Director Renoir conveys a sense of community among the French prisoners, despite their differences in social class. We see them several times sitting around a table eating, and chatting amiably. The cordiality between prisoners and their jailers is also surprising. It's not exactly a hug fest, but the predominant feeling among the men is respect for fellow officers, even if those officers are your enemy. None of the French or German officers want war; it's just their "duty", when called on.
In most of the film, scenes take place in small rooms or in that castle. Toward the film's end, outdoor vistas provide a visual contrast. Except at the film's end, I was amazed at how drab the surroundings are. Room furnishings are unadorned and contain the barest of essentials. Tables and floors are made of simple wood. The clothes are dreary and depressing. The stone castle is dank and forbidding. Music is made with simple instruments, like a harmonica or a flute. Of course, given the time period and considering the setting, such drabness and simplicity are not surprising. But the contrast with today's complex world of modern luxuries, that we take for granted, is striking. The film's B&W cinematography accentuates the drab environment.
The story can be a bit confusing in the first half, because the relationship between the jailers and the prisoners is so unusual. Viewers need to give the film wide latitude on this. Watching the film a second time helps clarify who is doing what to whom. The plot is easier to follow in the second half.
The film's acting is credible. I especially liked the performance of von Stroheim, all decked out in that imposing uniform, that monocle, and with that stiff bearing.
"La Grande Illusion" is an unusual "war" film, one that had real significance during WWII. For this reason alone, it deserves to be seen.
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