Grand Illusion

117 minutes

A film about war without a single scene of combat, Jean Renoir's 1937 masterpiece about French and German officers during World War I suggests that the true divisions of that conflict were of class rather than nationality. The point is embodied in the friendship between two aristocratic officers, a German (Erich von Stroheim, in his greatest performance in a sound film) and a Frenchman (Pierre Fresnay), both of whom ultimately become sacrificial victims after a nouveau riche Jewish officer (Marcel Dalio) and a French mechanic (Jean Gabin) manage to escape from Stroheim's fortress to freedom. The relationship between the mechanic and a German widow (L'Atalante's Dita Parlo), who barely speak each other's language, is no less moving. The film doesn't have the polyphonic brilliance of Renoir's The Rules of the Game, made two years later, but it's still one of the key humanist expressions to be found in movies: sad, funny, exalting, and glorious. In French with subtitles.

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