One of the very first prison escape movies, Grand Illusion is hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. Jean Renoir's antiwar masterpiece stars Jean Gabin and Pierre Fresnay, as French soldiers held in a World War I G... more »erman prison camp, and Erich von Stroheim as the unforgettable Captain von Rauffenstein. Following a smash theatrical re-release, Criterion is proud to present Grand Illusion in a new special edition, with a beautifully restored digital transfer.« less
Finally, a masterpiece given the treatment it deserves...
K. Garner | the midwest | 12/02/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Criterion Collection has been batting 1.000 lately by bringing out splendid DVD versions of such classic films as "The Wages of Fear","The Passion of Joan of Arc" and "The Third Man". Now, with "Grand Illusion", they may have even surpassed themselves. The transfer is from an original camera negative thought to be lost for decades and it can't be rivalled for image clarity or sound quality (given that this is a 62-year old film). The DVD version of "Grand Illusion" looks as close as we can hope to its original state. The film itself is a poignant examination of the conflict between class and national identity during World War I. Three French officers - an aristocrat (Pierre Fresnay), a rich Jewish banker (Marcel Dalio), and a working-class capitian (Jean Gabin) - are captured and imprisoned by a refined, arrogant German officer (von Stroheim). The French and German aristocrats share a deeper cultural and affetionate bond than they do with the men of their respective countries. When the French captives plan an escape, the aristocratic officer risks himself for a nationalism he doesn't believe in. The scenes between Fresnay and von Stroheim, arguably some of the tenderest scenes in the movie, display a ritual of noblesse oblige that seems absurd today (the people in the cinema where I saw it laughed at these men's tender missives to each other). And, indeed, these aristocratic manners are patently absurd in the theater of modern warfare. Pauline Kael has said that this film is "an elegy for a dying class" and that's partially true - it's also an examination of how tenuous the bonds of nationalism can be both within countries (as relations between the working-class Gabin and Dalio later prove) and between them (when a German guard hands Gabin a harmonica). And yet, the acting and writing are grounded so much character and detail that you can be very moved by this film without noticing these underlying theme (the audience that laughed at the aforementioned scenes, gave the film a standing ovation at the end). "Grand Illusion" has been enormously influental - you can see traces of it in "Casablanca" (with Dalio, interestingly enough) and "Paths of Glory", for example. Renoir's direction is wonderfully fluid - even his minor characters have unique features. Along with "Passion" and "The Third Man", the Criterion version of "Grand Illusion" is one of the finest DVD releases of the year. Let's hope that they now do the same for "The Rules of the Game""
Number 1 DVD transfer for the Number 1 movie !
Michael Lellouche | paris, france | 01/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Grand Illusion is sometimes considered as one of the greatest movies ever shot. It was Orson Welles' favorite. Even though many consider that "Rules of the Game" is more important and brillant. The two movies are very different, both incredible. Grand Illusion is easier to catch immediatly while Rules let you think endlessly. In regard of the DVD : BUY IT EYES CLOSED ! The picture is incredible, looks like it was shot yesterday because coming from the original re-found negative film. It has not even one small spot or crack. It is PURE. And it is the original 114 minutes version, not the well-known 105 minutes. The DVD is full of bonus, the best being the filmed introduction by Jean Renoir, and also the audio archive of Von Stroheim. I cannot express how much I love Renoir and this movie and I hope that Rules of the Game will come up in DVD soon in Zone 1 (it exists in France in Zone 2 with a beautiful master, but has no english subtitles). Then the world can contemplate this masterpiece again and again. Buy Grand Illusion and you'll never think of war and humanity the same way again."
A stunning re-birth of the great classic
Toshifumi Fujiwara | Tokyo, Japan | 05/22/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the greatest achievement in film history, this Jean Renoir's masterpiece could be seen only in prints and video made from an inferior duplicate neagtive for over 40 years, as the original film elements was thought to be lost during the German occupation (Goebbels and Hitler hated the film, and banned it in Germany at its original release). If you have seen only these versions, you haven't really seen it yet! The new transfer, made from the newly-discovered original camera negative (i.e., the best film element available) is just stunning. For the viewers familliar with the film, there is an added surprise at the begining, for the credit title sequence is different. The crisp trasnfer allow viewers to appreciate the depth of Renoir's masterful direction, for you can see a lot of details that might be lost in inferior prints: for Renoir, it is not just the protagonists that are important, but the whole atmosphere that surrounds them, including the delicious performance from the supporting cast (the Jean Renoir Stock Company, such as Julien Carrette, Gaston Modot and Jean Daste) which makes this film more than just an anti-war film. The DVD also includes the trailer from the 1958 re-release, featuring Jean Renoir himself passionately telling what this movie is all about: "it is a story of people like you and me, caught in the tragedy called war". Grand Illusion is a story of survival, of people who want to live in their best way possible, within their humain limitation. Limitation, for the people can act only within their social class behaviour and their social role. But Renoir never condems or criticize them; the film embraces even the flaws in their perosnalities. It's a great film, and a must-have DVD."
Jonathan Schaper | London, Ontario Canada | 05/01/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Orson Welles, who was not known for his modesty, said that if a cabinet containing every film ever made caught fire and he only had time to run in and rescue one film, it would be the Grand Illusion (not Citizen Kane, etc). Most people watching this film today might wonder why it warrants such high praise. I say this because many of the themes in this film have been dealt with memorably in other films (the first time I saw the Grand Illusion, for example, I couldn't help thinking that I preferred Stalag 17). As a result, the film appears to be less original than it actually was. Modern audiences are also not used to the movie's themes being dealt with so subtly (no bodies are graphically blown up to show the horrors of war, no lower class characters are unjustly executed, etc). Thus it will not attract as much widespread popular praise as such overblown garbage as Saving Private Ryan (which is a complete and utter failure as an anti-war movie after its opening 10 minute gorefest ends). In contrast, this film has a subtle depth which elevates its effectiveness and will keep the viewer thinking long after it ends.There are many illusions dealt with in the film. The interaction between the upper class prisoners and the prison camp's commandant (excellently performed by Erich Von Stronheim) illustrates the illusion of civility that exists (or should I say existed) during war (people pretending to be civilized while trying to wipe each other out). It illustrates the illusion of nationalism (except for the war, the officers are kindred spirits). The illusion of class is also well portrayed with the commandant arbitrarily showing less favour to some prisoners because of their last name and for no other reason. Viewers with knowledge of history will also note the irony in its theme of the decline of nobility and the ascendency of democracy given that this film occurs during a war in which lowly soldiers were ruthlessly sacrificed by their "noble" leaders in greater numbers than in any other war.One thing which makes this film different from most others about war or class is that it portrays the noble officers as worthwhile and positive people, but it treats all of its characters with equal respect. This, of course, further illustrates the illusory nature of class.For a thought-provoking movie, it is also quite entertaining, filled with humour, suspense and great performances. While I would not go as far as Welles in his praise of The Grand Illusion, it is still very highly recommended."
One of the greatest anti-war classics ever made
ilian73 | Los Angeles, CA USA | 05/10/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Grand Illusion, together with The Rules of the Game is Jean Renoir's best known film. But unlike The Rules of the Game, which was universally maligned by both critics and the moviegoing public and banned by the French government for bad taste, The Grand Illusion was universally praised to become the instant classic. Well, this tale of two movies has perhaps most to do with the tones of the movies and Renoir's humanistic tendency to approach everything with understanding and fairness, as far as that is possible, even with things that he is actually lampooning (as in The Rules of the Game.) In case of The Rules of the Game, maybe the moviegoers could not reconcile the frivolity of life - as offensive as that was - and profound sympathy that was shown to them. But in The Grand Illusion, the noble themes and situations are more acceptible.Renoir's films are rarely if ever about just one thing, and The Grand Illusion is no exception. First of all, what is the "grand"(more accurately, great or maybe even gross) illusion that the title refers to? It obviously refers to the illusion that the war will be over soon as it is often expressed in the movie. It is also the illusion that war is noble or honorable, or that war brings divided classes together. It also refers to the illusions of the German officer Rauffenstein of the old and new order. But it probably also refers to the illusion that the audience experiences at the end of the movie. At the superficial level, some moviegoers may feel that Marechal and Rosenthal escape successfully to France and that after war Marechal would Elsie. Although other moviegoers would find such prospect too optimistic, they would feel that the audience could choose either way - Marechal will return to Else or he will not. But any kind of optimistic sense felt at the end of the movie is the "grand" illusion. The fact is that Marechal and Rosenthal probably will return to France, and possibly be killed in later battles (though Rosenthal reappears in the Rules of the Game, it seems to be more of in-joke than the same character); in any case, the reunion of Else and Marechal is illusion. Although it seems that the national boundaries have been overcome by two characters, it turns out to be illlusion not because there is any truth to the boundary, which is man-made, but because of the social condition that is shaped by these boundaries. The bond between Marechal and Else, and between Marechal and Rosenthal are genuine but fragile liek von Rauffenstein's geranium. There are several times when they overcome nationality and religion toward common bond of humanity, but in the end, boundaries and social conditions impose order again. So at the end, when they make final sprint toward the Swiss border, Marechal and Rosenthal exchange words of farewell as if they are going their separate ways. In the movie, as noted, there are all kinds of man-made boundaries that separate men from others - class, nationality, language, (German, French, English, and Russian are prominently spoken in various scenes), ethnicity (there is even African officer in POW camp, and he's not there accidently), religion(which is quite prominent in one particular scene). After all, this film is the granddaddy of POW and escape genre, and the boundary manifests in physical forms of barbed wires, walls, and national borders. The main characters try to break out from the imposed boundary just as much from prison walls. But for Renoir, the boundary that separates men more than anything else is that of class - which separates common men from aristocrats. We see all sorts of social group that can be categorized - a student of Pindar, vegetarian, engineer, and various people who are occupied with different kinds of concerns. The movie often concerns itself with what these people will do if they get out of prison or if war is over. One of the most remarkable myth about the war is that it unites all social groups in one patriotic solidarity. The division among men is paradoxically most apparent in the closeness of two main characters. In fact, von Rauffenstein and de Boieldieu are so much in tune with each other that they almost appear to have been friends even though they meet for the first time in the movie. They have common acquaintances, place they have been to, but what brings them together in the end is their class. Although Renoir is sympathetic to these aristocratic characters, he does not grieve with them about the end of the old order, which the WWI brought about. Theirs is the class that must die out (aristoracy in Europe still lingered through the thirties to the WWII, which was to be the coup de grace, especially in Germany and France.), the new beginning starts in the last third of the film with Marechal, Rosenthal, and Else. Renoir's universe of complex orders and characters are well served by his film technique that utilizes depth of field and adroit tracking shot for The Grand Illusion is one of the best examples of democratic aspects that realist school is striving to achieve. I am not one to feel nostalgic about aristocracy, and certainly not Renoir (who supported the Popular Front), but Renoir tells the most elegiac story about passing of an age - from the age of aristocracy to the modern age. The Grand Illusion was made in 1937, when with Sudenten crisis and all that, there was distinct certainty that a major war was brewing in Europe. In this sense, The Grand Illusion was a plea for bond of brotherhood and higher understanding. Yet Renoir was also a realist. More and more one thinks about the movie, there is a greater sense of tragedy. This DVD was delayed for several years to acquire the best possible prints and beatifully restore them. It is a testament to Criterion's commitment to the art of cinema - well worth long wait.... Most highly recommended."