The Grand Illusion

  • Directed by Jean Renoir
  • France, 1937, 114 mins., French

A humanistic, sensitive masterpiece nearly unparalleled in cinema history, Renoir’s WWI drama concerns the trials and tribulations of a group of French POWs under German imprisonment. Most of the group are working-class, led by Lieutenant Maréchal (an unforgettable Jean Gabin); they scheme and plot—sometimes to the point of revolt—to escape the prison camp, meanwhile reveling in the stories of their lives at home during finer, non-combat times. Captain De Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), however, who was captured with Maréchal by the German von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim in one of his finest roles), develops a sympathetic yet ultimately tragic relationship with the German, who comes from a similarly upper-crust background. A deep and perceptive study of liberty, equality, and fraternity, Renoir’s masterwork is “one of the key humanist expressions to be found in movies: sad, funny, exalting, and glorious.”—Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader. In French with English subtitles.

Genres: War, Drama

Other Films by Jean Renoir

The River

Renoir’s film, late in his filmmaking career, sees the master working in color for the first time. The story follows a well-to-do British family living on the banks of the Ganges River. Teenager Harriet (Patricia Walters) and her sisters are brought up in an environment that melds the philosophies of East and West in equal