01 September 2007

85. la grande illusion

well, i would have chosen "la regle du jeu", but i can understand this decision too. there are many remarkable things about this film, but the one that stands out is that it is anti-war in all possible ways. it is against war, sure, but that's a surface concern and one that any simple fool can argue. instead, this film uses the backdrop of war to do a radical thing: explore relationships between those who have fallen through the cracks of a war, the prisoners. there are no explosions, no real gunshots -- the plane crash at the beginning that von stroheim causes is off-screen.
it is also a war film that's really about class struggles and the changing of europe from a continent controlled by aristocracy to one ruled by "the common man". this is the "grand illusion" of the title -- that the rules of high society don't apply to war. yet even officers have to sit at the same table as the rest of the prisoners.

the film is subtle, and subtle in its greatness. like all renoir's films, the the beauty of the movie is its basic humanity, with characters doing their best to try to understand each other, allow each other their dignity, and just get along. that's why we see a guard give a prisoner cigarettes from his own pocket and a harmonica to pass the time. that's why a jewish prisoner explains why he shares his food -- and, by extension, his wealth -- with his fellow inmates. that's why marechal says to a cow, "you're a poor cow, i'm a poor soldier. we each do our best." generally this is a french viewpoint, and it explains their belief and practice of socialism -- the desire to recognize the other side of the story and do your best to help, or at least to understand.