Grand Illusion

117 minutes 1931

For many years this 1937 tale of brotherhood and escape, set in a World War I German prison camp, was considered Jean Renoir's official masterpiece. It's an excellent film, with Renoir's usual looping line and deft shifts of tone, though today the balance of critical opinion has shifted in favor of the greater darkness and filigree of The Rules of the Game. Francois Truffaut described it as "the least eccentric of all of Renoir's French movies," and for that reason it has long been the most popular. But to imagine this same material in the hands of any of the cinema's more naive, more didactic humanists—a Capra or a Stevens, say—is to appreciate the measure of Renoir's genius and honesty. With Erich von Stroheim, Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, and Marcel Dalio. In French with subtitles.

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