Grand Illusion

Directed by Jean Renoir, 1937

Written by Jean Renoir and Charles Spaak


Try to pay attention to the complex camera movements that pattern so many of the shots in this film.What are these movements telling us? How do they enrich the meanings of the film? Think of the various instances in which these movements convey narrative information, in which they create symbols and express themes, and in which they create relations in space and time, relations among the various characters, and relations between the characters and their environment.

Consider how the film moves between a focus on individual characters, and a broader view that places these characters in larger webs of social relations: relations of nationality, of ethnicity, and of class, as well as those particular relations that are produced by the war and by captivity. How does the film characterize, for instance, the relations between the two aristocrats, de Boieldieu and von Rauffenstein, the relations between de Boileldieu and his fellow imprisoned French officers, the relations between the Jewish Rosenthal and the other Frenchmen, the relations among the imprisoned men in general, in the absence of women, and the relations between the two French escapees (Marechal and Rosenthal) and the German peasant woman (Elsa)? How does Renoir convey cinematically the subtleties of all these relations?

Consider how the film is situated in its historical context. It was made in 1937, at a time when the Nazis ruled Germany and the Second World War was imminent. How does this context reflect on the films evocation of the First World War, its call for a solidarity transcending nationalism (a vision that specifically includes French/German and Christian/Jewish cooperation), and its vision of the old aristocracy giving way to the ascendant middle class.