Grand Illusion

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Jean Renoir

REVIEWED: 10-25-99

With the discovery of the camera negative of Jean Renoir's 1937 Grand Illusion, we can now see this classic -- long available only in soft, contrast-deficient copies -- in a clear, crisp print with deep blacks and subtle grays. The new print makes the world of the film richer and fuller. "World" is a key word in discussing Renoir: his fluid, multilayered movies convince you that their architectural, natural, and behavioral landscapes are parts of wholes that recombine to infinity beyond the edges of the screen.

Set during World War I, Grand Illusion is about three captured French officers (Jean Gabin, Marcel Dalio, and Pierre Fresnay) and how they try to escape from German POW camps. Their adventures illuminate the enforced democratization of the war. Renoir shows people acting the way we want to think we'd act in their situations: that's why we're stirred when British officers in drag, apprised of a French military victory, break out with La Marseillaise in the middle of a theatrical performance, or when a German guard gives Gabin a harmonica, or when Gabin and Dalio hug each other goodbye before setting out on their final trek toward the Swiss border. As good as they become and as much as they love freedom, these men will go on killing each other -- that's the pessimism at the core of Renoir's humanism.

--Chris Fujiwara

Other Films by Jean Renoir
The Rules of the Game

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