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Grand Illusion (La Grande Illusion)

Director(s): Jean Renoir

Theatrical Release: 1937

Cast: Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Julien Carette, Erich Von Stroheim

Genre(s): Drama, war, classic, Criterion Collection

Countries: France


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Running Time: 111m.

Frequently cited as both one of the greatest films about war and one of the greatest films ever made, Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion is an often witty, sometimes poignant, frequently moving examination of the futility of war. During World War I, three French airmen are shot down while taking surveillance photographs in German territory: Capt. de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), a wealthy and aristocratic officer; Lt. Maréchal (Jean Gabin), a burly but intelligent working-class mechanic; and Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio), a prosperous Jewish banker. The three are brought to a P.O.W. camp, where the commander, Von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), takes an immediate liking to de Boeldieu. They are members of the same social class and believe that the political and intellectual ideals of the Europe they once knew will soon be a thing of the past with the rise to power of the proletariat. The three Frenchmen discover that their fellow prisoners have been digging an escape tunnel, and all of them agree to help — Maréchal and Rosenthal with enthusiasm, de Boeldieu out of a sense of duty. As he puts it, when on a golf course, one plays golf, and while in a prison camp, one tries to escape — it's the accepted thing to do. As Von Rauffenstein and de Boeldieu become friends, and the rank-and-file soldiers banter as much with the German guards as with each other, the characters seem involved less in a war than in some vast, petty game, albeit one with deadly consequences; they often talk about women and food, while never mentioning political ideology. - Mark Deming (allmovie.com)

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Criterion Collection DVD #1 Special Features:

+ Newly restored digital transfer, created from the long-lost camera negative

+ New and improved English subtitle translation

+ A rare theatrical trailer in which Jean Renoir discusses both Grand Illusion and his personal war experiences

+ Audio essay by film historian Peter Cowie

+ Archival radio presentation: Renoir and Erich von Stroheim accept Grand Illusion’s Best Foreign Film honors at the 1938 New York Film Critics Awards

+ Press book excerpts: Renoir’s letter “to the projectionist,” cast bios, an essay on Renoir by von Stroheim, and essays about the film’s title and recently recovered camera negative

Restoration demonstration

Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition
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