Sunday, November 25, 2012

La Grande Illusion

Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion is one of the undeniably great films in the history of world cinema – an eloquent commentary on the borders that divide people, classes, armies, and countries. During WWI, two aristocrats – the German commander Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim) and his prisoner, the French officer Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) – share a mirror image of society based on honor and order, a system of mutual respect and protocol linked to years of tradition.  Though their class is doomed by the changes that produced the war, they must act out the rituals of noblesse oblige and serve a nationalism they don’t really believe in.  Hence the grand illusion that somehow class and upbringing elevate these officers above the commonness of war – when bullets don’t know one bloodline from another.

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