Grand Illusion

424. GRAND ILLUSION (1937-France). With JEAN GABIN, ERICH VON STROHEIM, PIERRE FBESNAY. Directed by JEAN RENOIR. Universally acclaimed as one Of the finest anti-war movies ever made. Jean Renoir’s memorable classic manages to convey war’s many absurdities without showing a single combat scene. The great French director focuses instead on the complex relationships among prisoners Of war, and between prisoners and captors, during “the war to end all wars.” A group Of French aviators escape from various German camps, before ending up in a secure stone fortress headed by the very man who had originally shot them down-an impeccable, rigid Prussian Officer played to perfection by Erich Von Stroheim. The commandant and an equally aristocratic French Officer discover a great deal in common, including the sad realization that their class is dying out. Eventually, a lower-class Frenchman (Jean Gabin) and a representative Of the rising Jewish middle class escape, and find refuge on a German woman’s farm. The warm relationships that develop among these three beautifully demonstrate that the barriers Of class, religion and nationality can be overcome; that such barriers, as well as the value Of war itself, are only “grand illusions.” Renoir’s overwhelming compassion creates a world in which there are no heroes or villains-only people, trying to unite in a common humanity under most difficult circumstances. His movie has everything: powerful social statements, poignant drama, genuine humor, suspenseful escape sequences, and a remarkably understated-but nonetheless assured-use Of visual techniques and sound. One Of a handful Of films that almost everyone agrees truly deserves to be called “masterpieces.” In French with English subtitles. 107 minutes. Drama