La Grande Illusion (1937) – Film Review
Director: Jean Renoir
Cast: Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay
by Dan Berlinka
During the First World War a disparate group of Frenchmen are thrown together in a German prisoner of war camp and start planning their escape.
Despite its POW setting, Renoir’s humanistic story of wartime confinement and escape resists easy classification. It is more interested in the small moments between its characters than in the break-outs they are plotting.
“Transcends history and remains truly timeless”
Performances are universally excellent – Fresnay, Dalio and Von Stroheim all create characters that are almost painfully believable – but even in such stellar company it’s impossible not to single out the breathtaking effortlessness of Jean Gabin’s naturalism.
Looking back at WW1 from 1937 may have felt like the calm before the storm that would sweep across Europe two years later; but now (restored and re-released for its 75th anniversary) it transcends history and remains truly timeless.