Irish Film Institute -LA GRANDE ILLUSION



114 minutes, France, 1937, Subtitled, Black and White, D-Cinema

Newly restored for its 75th anniversary, Jean Renoir’s WWI drama is both the grand-daddy of all prison escape movies and a profoundly affecting portrait of just how decent people can be to each other . . .in the right circumstances.

The title is key here because it’s only the fact that they’re held captive by the Germans which gives Jean Gabin (rough Breton), Pierre Fresnay (monocled aristocrat) and Marcel Dalio (wealthy Jewish entrepreneur) a common purpose, since outside the French army they would move in separate orbits.

While you’ll spot echoes of The Great Escape and even Casablanca, it’s the miraculous way Renoir has time for everyone which immerses us in the plight of the combatants and captors. Indeed, fabled silent director Erich Von Stroheim makes an unforgettable impression as the old-school German commandant clinging to the belief that upper class fraternity outweighs political divisions – an illusion that’s soon shattered by the march of history. It’s a masterpiece, of its time, and for all time.  (Notes by Trevor Johnston.) 

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