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The cinema masterpiece Grand Illusion (1937)

Updated on July 6, 2014
Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion
Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion
Grand illusion main caracters; Rauffenstein, Boeldieu and Marchal.
Grand illusion main caracters; Rauffenstein, Boeldieu and Marchal.
Jean Renoir
Jean Renoir

Jean Renoir was born in Montmartre, France, in 1894. During his career, he made more than 40 movies and some of them are considered masterpieces. Among his best works, you will find La Bête humaine (The Human Beast) (1938) which was based on the novel of Emile Zola and La règle du jeu (The Rules of the game) (1939). The Rules of the game is considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, along with Grand Illusion. The movie was banned twice by the French government and had to be massively edited before sent to theaters. The reason for it being banned was because the film portrayed the french upper class as self indulgent and capricious. It is now one of the greatest achievements in cinematography.

Grand Illusion

Grand Illusion is set during the World War I. French lieutenants made prisoners of war by Germany plot a scheme to escape the camp. They are Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin). They are shot down by german aviator Rauffenstein (Erich Von Stroheim) and they are moved from camp to camp until they are finally moved to Wintersbourn, a guarded fortress commanded by Rauffenstein, who was gravely injured in war. During their stay, they will share great bond and enthusiasm towards Rauffenstein. But that won't stop them from elaborating another plan in order to escape.

The movie itself depicts war but in such a blissful and human way. No one would ever see French prisoners and a german aviator have dinner and talk about women and social classes. Aristocracy is portrayed through Boeldieu and Maréchal as they talk about social classes. They talk about nationalism in which they don't believe in. It is now very easy to understand why this movie was banned by the Germans and, later on, by the Italians.

For those who have not seen the movie, I highly suggest you watch the restored edition Criterion made. It is the first restoration they made and the image and sound is crisp and does not sound like a movie from the 30's. You could always watch another version but Criterion's version is the best one yet and it will definitely improve your viewing of this mastepiece.

I did not enjoy the movie as much as I should have after my first viewing. I wasn't aware of the concept and the main ideas in the movies. After some research I gave the movie another chance and it was a joy to watch. I now own the movie and could not be much happier. I wonder why they don't show this movie in high school or in college history classes. I certainly would have enjoyed it more if I had a teacher to tell us what it was all about. Besides, this is considered to be one of the greatest movies of war so it would fit perfectly. I give this movie 5 stars out of 5; it's a wonderful masterpiece. Watch it!!

My final rating is 5/5 stars!!

Reception of the movie

Grand Illusion was nominated for an Oscar in ''Best picture'' category. Later on, a category for Best Foreign movie was established in 1956. It has been praised as one of the best anti-war movies ever made. The movie negatives were almost destroyed during war raids but thankfully they survived. Some later time after war ended, it was re-edited and shown in various countries where it was generally well acclaimed.

Grand Illusion trailer

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      No I haven't seen that. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • The Reminder profile imageAUTHOR

      The Reminder 

      6 years ago from Canada


      Have you seen the movie ''Joyeux Noël''? It's about World War and the french, german and english troops on december 24th, decide to take a day off and celebrate Christmas together. Highly recommended!

      It's of the same caliber as Grand Illusion.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Cool review. I actually saw this film in a film history course. It was cool to learn history through films, otherwise I find history boring.

      I like that you touched on the human aspect of the film. It relates to that famous Renoir quote that "everyone has their reasons." In reference to this film I feel like Renoir tries to show the French and Germans as humans that have "their reasons" for fighting.

      The ending is sort of forced though, with the thrown in romance at the end.

    • The Reminder profile imageAUTHOR

      The Reminder 

      6 years ago from Canada

      James A Watkins:

      If you like movies you definitely have to check this one out. I am not too old (28 years old) ans am starting to appreciate old classics. Nowadays you see the same type of movies at the theaters and you have to dig deep to find true classics and this is one of them.

      I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this fine film review. I will check it out based on your five-star recommendation. I love movies.

    • The Reminder profile imageAUTHOR

      The Reminder 

      7 years ago from Canada

      THAT Mary Ann:

      I am a bit young but I am slowly catching up with classic movies. Grand Illusion is one of my favorites.

    • profile image

      THAT Mary Ann 

      7 years ago

      I love films from this era. Thanks for this thorough review.


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