Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Marking the centennial for World War I: Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion

The centennial for World War I (August 4 1914) inspired Rick and me to watch Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion which explores the experiences of French prisoners of war in German prison camps during WW I. Generally viewed as one of the great anti-war films ever made, it was on my long list of great books never read, great films/ plays never seen.

The German aristocrat who runs the camp bonds with an imprisoned French aristocrat. For the German officer, class loyalty counts almost as much as nationality and he laments a world in which the old aristocracy is declining. The French officer is more open to the new social order he expects to come in the aftermath of WWI; he increasingly comes to respect soldiers from backgrounds different from his own—a working class Parisian and a wealthy Jewish soldier.

This description of soldiers overcoming class barriers / ethnic prejudices in the cauldron of WW I may sound a little too formulaic, almost trite, but that’s not how we experienced it when viewing the film. It’s totally absorbing, moving--a film I’ll remember and intend to watch again. I’m sure there are subtleties/ nuances I missed the first time around.

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