Grand Illusion Review
Directed by Jean Renoir (The Rules of the Game) and starring Jean Gabin and Erich von Stroheim, Grand Illusion is a 1937 war drama film that is cited as one of the best French as well as overall movies of all time.
It follows a group of prisoners of war plotting an escape during WWI. In terms of storytelling, this is not that strong a movie in my honest opinion. It was done before and after better. And the first half is rather boring and quite repetitive at times. But the second half is much better and the whole third act is brilliant. Thematically speaking, this is an excellent movie. It wonderfully explores the class relations during war along with the end of aristocracy. But what is the best thing about it is how beautifully open-minded it is with a great unbiased look at different nations and from different sides. And it has a strong anti-war statement which is terrific and highly needed as many war movies do not have that approach unfortunately. I absolutely adored the part with the German woman protecting the protagonists and hiding them in her house. Those scenes are what drive Grand Illusion. It is filled with humanism and evident hatred towards war.
The character development here is quite good, but not great. The two officers who manage to escape are definitely the standouts and, as I mentioned before, the German woman is great and very endearing. Those characters are definitely phenomenal, but the rest of the characters needed more work and fail to make a lasting impression.
As for the acting, it is magnificent. Jean Gabin and Dita Parlo are highlights, but all of the actors did a phenomenal job with their performances. But what I was not a fan of is the humor and constant odd behavior and yelling between the men. I thought the movie should have been more dramatic and the comedy route, even a parody of sorts, is not particularly well done and well suited for this kind of story. But the directing is great and there are many memorable scenes, especially the ending which is very satisfying. The editing is mediocre as some scenes definitely drag and sometimes the movie is repetitive, most notably in the first half. And the tone is too comedic, as I stated before. But the cinematography is wonderful as is the acting and the emotionally compelling and thematically rich approach. The movie is also smart with a sophisticated dialogue and it is visually appealing with some memorable imagery.