Grand Illusion is a 1937 French film directed by Jean Renoir. The film is regarded as one of the greatest of French cinema. It was also the first foreign language film to be nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Picture. The film continues to be highly regarded for its drama, commentary on war, and commentary on social classes. So does this highly regarded French film deserve to be counted among the greats? Does it deserve the label of classic?
Should this film be considered a classic? Without a doubt. This was a film I went into as a blank slate. I had never seen it nor heard of it to my knowledge. Films like this one are always the most fun to sit down and watch because I know it will be a completely new experience for me. Well, Grand Illusion proved wonderful surprise and ranks with On The Waterfront as one of my favorite, previously undiscovered, movies on this list. The film provides a glimpse at World War I through the eyes of French POWs. Not only does it give us a commentary on war but it also provides a fascinating social commentary on issues of class. The film is primarily driven by the relationships that develop between four men with classes ranging from middle class to wealthy to aristocrat. I have to say the film did not go the way I expected with the relationship between the French POWs and I was pleasantly surprised by the fair handedness with which the film dealt with each of the different classes represented. The film avoids the easy stereotypes and I think that is what makes it such a joy to watch.
Would I own this film? Yes! I’m hoping that Criterion will release a Blu-Ray version at some point. This is a film that has so many different layers that it really needs to be watched multiple times to make sure that nothing is missed while reading the subtitles. The film is available on Netflix streaming as of right now so if you have not seen it you should do yourself a favor and add this one to your weekend plans. You won’t be disappointed and I think you will find it gives a much fairer treatment to the issue of class than if you spent $20 to go watch James Cameron sink Titanic.