Set during World War I, this masterwork by Jean Renoir, once hailed by Orson Welles as the “greatest of all directors,” was shot just three years before the beginning of World War II. Renoir, who himself had flown reconnaissance missions during WWI, examines the relationships that form among a group of French officers held in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Within this detention center, class, religious, and national divisions increasingly cease to matter: An indestructible fraternity forms among the Breton working-class Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin, a Renoir regular); the aristocratic Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), never without his white gloves; and the Jewish Lieutenant Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio). Even the man responsible for their imprisonment, the German Captain von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), invites Maréchal and de Boeldieu to lunch. As the film historian Peter Cowie once astutely noted, “Grand Illusion escapes the confines of the war movie genre. Scarcely a gun is fired in anger. The trenches are nowhere in sight. Yet through some alchemy, Renoir imbues the film with his passionate belief in man’s humanity to man. . . . The accident of war brings out the fundamentally decent nature of people who in peacetime would be unbending strangers to one another.”
It is not enough to say that it has retained its power… The stature of the film remains undiminished by the passage of time.
Jean Renoir, Charles Spaak
Lt. Maréchal: Jean Gabin
Capitaine de Boeldieu: Pierre Fresnay
Lt. Rosenthal: Marcel Dalio
Cdt. Von Rauffenstein: Erich von Stroheim
Elsa: Dita Parlo
Best Foreign Film – New York Film Critics Circle Awards (1938); Best Artistic Ensemble – Venice Film Festival (1937), Official Selection – Academy Awards (1938)
RUNNING TIME 114 min
PRODUCTION France, 1938
FORMAT(S) 35mm, DCP, Blu-ray, DVD
$350 to $500, pending format.
*Fees for screening rights are negotiable and may depend on: format, size of screening room, whether admission will be charged, etc. Check with each distributor and make sure to mention your participation in Tournées in your negotiation.