I couldn't post this in a timely fashion since the snowOMGpocalpyse ruined our internet connection. I was able to finish watching Grand Illusion on Netflix streaming, and I hope I'll be able to watch my movie tomorrow :/
Grand Illusion was made in 1937, directed by Jean Renoir. It feels quite a bit like a film you are probably more familiar with, The Great Escape. But this film isn't about being a prisoner of war, or war at all, even. It has to do with, as Ebert writes, “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 line subscribed to the same code of behavior. Whatever it was, it died in the trenches of World War I” (The Great Movies, 205).
The characters in this film are so interesting to me. I never was very familiar with the idea that Ebert is talking about, so it was shocking to see the enemy forces seem to care so deeply for each other. They cared when they were hurt, and they thought they would uphold the promises that they made to each other. The Germans assume that the French will uphold their promise to not escape. I mean, they promised, after all. It's strange but I felt it was very real. There were scenes of sadness and scenes of cheer, and it made the film feel so true. Touching moments mingled with sad ones, just like life.
Ebert writes that this movie was declared “Cinematic Public Enemy Number One,” by Goebbels (The Great Movies, 206), and was quickly seized. Many people thought the all the prints were lost. He says that it was so hated because it pointed out how the actions and themes of World War I would worsen in II. I really wouldn't have known any of this on my own, so his essay was really enlightening and interesting to me. Having watched other movies that were inspired by this, I was most struck by the scenes that were copied, not the historical context.
I think this is a very beautiful and very different film. I can't say I've ever seen anything like it, and I really enjoyed it's strangeness and unfamiliarity. Even though I have a hard time understanding the idea of a “gentleman's code of conduct”, it made sense and I really became involved in the story, despite how hard it was for me to relate to. Renoir was incredibly talented, evidenced in the fact that modern viewers can still connect with and be touched by a story line that is now archaic to them.
As I said, the movie is streaming on Netflix, so it's worth checking out, if the snow ever lets up in this area. Or maybe you have internet and are snowed in, which is the perfect time to check out these great old movies. Let me know if you do.
Have any of you seen The Grand Illusion? Share your thoughts in the comments!