When a particularly huge name in film comes along, people tend to equate that person’s film likes and dislikes as having even more weight than a professional critic’s choices would; even more so because they tend to pick true masterpieces. Stanley Kubrick is one that comes to mind, but the prime example for classic cinema is Orson Welles. For instance, he cited Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion as one of the films he would take with him “on the ark”. Most people, if versed well enough in the annals and lore of cinema to know Renoir, would cite La Regle du Jeu as Renoir’s masterwork, but to ignore La Grande Illusion’s existence in favor of Renoir’s later opus is to deny this film the proper stature it demands. La Regle du Jeu may be Renoir’s masterpiece, but I found La Grande Illusion to, overall, be the more entertaining film.
Renoir uses war as a pretext to examine class relations between foreigners of various countries. Oftentimes, people of different classes, and even different wartime affiliations, will find each other in the same boat, and all of a sudden, it doesn’t matter what side you’re fighting for or what denomination of wealth you have over the other guy; everyone is a human being, and nothing else seems to matter. It’s admittedly an idealistic viewpoint, even for the pre-WWII time Renoir made the picture in, but it is one that can work thanks to the magic of the movies. All throughout the escape attempts, the shifting of the various POWs to different camps, the vaudeville stage productions, and the interactions with their keepers, Renoir shows people generally treating each other like people, rather than the pond scum they might be seen as in their home countries or villages. It’s quite a release to see such a display of camaraderie, even in a film, and it’s largely what makes La Grande Illusion so watchable.
What I liked most was that, having previously seen La Regle du Jeu, and admired that film for the technical masterwork that it is, La Grande Illusion is largely the same in terms of the technicals and the filmmaking behind it. I mentioned in my review of La Regle du Jeu that I’d have to watch that one again, to gain a better appreciation for all it does so well. When I wrote that, I didn’t know I’d be getting a second lesson in La Grande Illusion. Renoir makes some of the most perfectly done films I’ve seen outside the modern era, and as a moviegoer that tends to gush over the technicals, I loved the hell out of it. I wasn’t the only one, too; La Grande Illusion eventually ended up as the first foreign language film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. A technical masterwork, a critical darling, and a barrier-shattering film all in one? Yes, please, may I have another?
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10