La Grande Illusion (1937 – DVD)

“Out there, children play soldiers. In here, soldiers play like children”

While browsing the window of my local Entertainment Exchange I saw a mint condition 7 DVD Jean Renoir boxset for just £20, the same set that usually retails in the £40-£70 range (If you can find a copy at all!).  Needless to say I snapped it up and my first dip into the set is WWI POW Drama ‘La Grande Illusion’.

The simplest was to describe the film is as the French ‘Great Escape’.  Firstly because 1963’s ‘The Great Escape’ is clearly heavily inspired by ‘La Grande Illusion’ (To say the least!) and secondly because Renoir’s film is tonealy French in comparison.  Where as the later American film has Steve McQueen doing Motorcycle jumps, the earlier French film focuses on complex studies of character, class and comradeship.  To put things in context, ‘La Grande Illusion’ was released in 1937, two years before Hitler invaded Poland.  So the sympathetic portrayals of the German guards are refreshingly unburdened by the baggage of a post Holocaust world.  The cinematography and direction haven’t aged a day unlike American films of the period such as 1942’s ‘Casablanca’ which while wonderful looks very stylistically dated.  I know that I’m going to watch this again and again and still be finding new things in this powerful anti-war masterpiece.

Here is an interesting vintage clip of Renoir introducing a restored print to cinema audiences:

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