Grand Illusion (1938)

grandillusion

Starring: Jean Garbin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim

Director: Jean Renoir

Summary: French POWs fight to escape their German captors during World War I

Other Nominations: None

Positives

-The move certainly had a great central theme of how people, regardless of class, race or nationality, are alike all over, and therefore starting wars based on nationalism makes no sense. It’s a much more subtle (and arguably more nuanced) anti-war massage than the in-your-face All Quiet on the Western Front, even if I didn’t enjoy it as much here as I did with that film.

-The aspect of the film that struck me the most was how silly their attempts to escape were to begin with. As officers who were given preferential treatment as POWs, their living conditions were not only quite good, they were better off in a POW camp than they were on the front or fighting in the air. While some of them say the want to escape so they can go back to fighting for their country, others say it’s simply because it’s something to pass the time, which I found really interesting.

Negatives

-The movie is much more about its themes than its characters, who mostly seem to serve as stand-ins for their respective classes/races/nationalities. Other than Von Stroheim’s character, none of them really stuck out to me all that much. The plot also mostly took a backseat to the themes as well; while the themes were well-done, I think it would have engaged me more if it was either more of an in-depth character study with the same themes, or had a more intensive plot.

Other Stuff

-This was the first ever foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture. Since then, only 8 others have been so honored: Z (1969), The Emigrants (1972), Cries and Whispers (1973), Il Postino (1995), Life is Beautiful (1998), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) (although it was made in the U.S.), and Amour (2012).

-This movie was released in 1937 in France, but is a 1938 nominee since that was the year of its U.S. release

Overall

I liked this movie, but not the extent most people who have seen it too. I guess the main reason why is because I just couldn’t get invested into the characters as actual characters, or the plot as much as I would have liked to. Still a very fine film with a very relevant message.

Rating: B

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