Grand Illusion

War | French, German with English subtitles | 114 minutes


During the First World War, two French airmen, the aristocratic Captain de Boeldieu and the working-class Lieutenant Maréchal, are shot down over Germany and taken prisoner. Boeldieu and Maréchal are moved from camp to camp ending up in Wintersborn, a mountain fortress commanded by Captain (later Major) von Rauffenstein. At Wintersborn, the pair are united with a fellow prisoner, Lieutenant Rosenthal, a wealthy French Jew, who generously shares the food parcels he receives. They concoct an escape plan: Boeldieu will distract the German guards while Maréchal and Rosenthal escape. Rauffenstein attempts to stop Boeldieu by aiming his pistol at his legs. Instead he shoots Boeldieu in the stomach. In his final moments, Boeldieu and Rauffenstein find a commonality: two privileged aristocrats. They lament that their usefulness to society  will end with the war. The dying Boeldieu pities Rauffenstein, his enemy but also his soul mate. Rauffenstein must now find a new life in the emerging social order that will follow the ending of the war.      

Jean Gabin (Lieutenant Maréchal) / Marcel Dalio (Lieutenant Rosenthal) / Pierre Fresnay (Captain de Boeldieu) / Erich von Stroheim (Captain von Rauffenstein)
Why Stream This Film?
It’s a  film vividly depicting a war that was declared by the aristocrats and gentry of Europe. The title, “Grand Illusion,” in Renoir’s view, stands for the way the upper class of Europe felt they were above the war.  Orson Welles named “The Grand Illusion” as one of the two movies he would take with him “on the ark.” 
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 97%
  • Academy Awards: Nominated, Best Film
  • National Board of Review: Winner, Best Foreign Film
  • New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Winner, Best Foreign Language Film

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GRAND ILLUSION is not a movie about a prison escape, nor is it jingoistic in its politics; it’s a meditation on the collapse of the old order of European civilization. Perhaps that was always a sentimental upper-class illusion, the notion that gentlemen on both sides of the lines subscribed to the same code of behavior. Whatever it was, it died in the trenches of World War I. Jean Renoir is on any list of the half-dozen greatest filmmakers.
Roger Ebert

One of the most haunting of all films. An oasis of subtlety,  moral intelligence, and deep emotion on the cinematic landscape.
Janet Maslin

The New York Times

GRAND ILLUSION was filmed by the most humane of directors, Jean Renoir. It’s one of the greatest World War I movie ever made.
Mick LaSalle

San Francisco Chronicle

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