The Grand Illusion
“In form, La Grande Illusion is an escape story; yet who would think of it this way? …(It) is a perceptive study of human needs and the subtle barriers of class among a group of prisoners and their captors during World War I. The two aristocrats, the German prison commander von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim) and the captured French officer de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), share a common world of memories and sentiments. Though their class is doomed by the changes which have produced the war, they must act out the rituals of noblessse oblige and serve a nationalism they do not believe in. The Frenchman sacrifices his life for men he does not really approve of - the plebeian Marechal (Jean Gabin) and the Jew Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio). These ironies and ambiguities give genuine depth to the theme - fraternization, and the illusions of nationality.... La Grande Illusion is a triumph of clarity and lucidity; every detail fits simply, easily, and intelligibly. There is no unnecessary camera virtuosity: the compositions seem to emerge from the material. It's as if beauty just happens (is it necessary to state that this unobtrusive artistry is perhaps the most difficult to achieve?)…”
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