Grand Illusion, La - DVD review (5 stars)

La Grand Illusion

(U) 110min (Optimum DVD retail/rental)


After La Grande Illusion won a prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1937, the Nazis declared it ‘cinematic enemy number one’, and when Germany invaded France a couple of years later Goebbels had prints of the film destroyed. Jean Renoir’s masterpiece survived, of course, and went on to become one of the rare non-English language films to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

What got the Nazis all fired up was not only the film’s deeply affecting indictment of the nature of war, but also Renoir’s dramatisation of the death of the old European order. Set during World War I, the film focuses on the relationship between three French POWs, an aristocratic captain (played by Jean Gabin), an army mechanic and a Jewish banker, but also - controversially - between the captain and his likewise aristocratic German jailer/commandant (Eric Von Stroheim).

Digitally restored and uncut, this special edition also features two short films by Renoir.

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