Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Video review: "Le Grande Illusion"
It doesn't have the reputation here in the States that it does overseas, but "Le Grande Illusion" (The Grand Illusion) is often referred to as the greatest film ever made, even besting perennial favorite "Citizen Kane" in some critics' minds.
I wouldn't quite line up behind them. But there's no denying the lovely poetry of this 1938 French film by Jean Renoir about Allied prisoners of war and their German captors. Set during the more gentlemanly era of World War I, it arrived at a time in a Europe when everyone surely knew another great cataclysm was upon them.
"Le Grande Illusion" is finally getting a Blu-ray release with a first-class transfer of a recently restored version of the movie.
The story centers on three French aviation officers: Lt. Marechal (Jean Gabin), Lt. Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio) and Capt. de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay). They were all shot down, and react in different ways to the idea of being sidelined for the rest of the war.
Marechal and Rosenthal endeavor to find a method of escape, while the noble-born de Boeldieu finds himself drawn into a friendship with the German prison commander, Capt. von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim) a fellow aristocrat. Horribly burnt, von Rauffenstein wears a stiff body brace, full uniform and spotless white gloves, indications of his carefully-cultivated ideals.
Through subtle dialogue and gorgeous cinematography, the film quietly punctures the notion that the best qualities mankind possesses -- bravery, compassion, humility -- are birthrights. True nobility is earned -- that's the lesson this cinematic standout imparts.
The blu-ray release comes with a number of features, some of which are recycled from previous DVD editions and some of which are all-new. The latter include a retrospective by critic Olivier Curchod, and an original negative of the film.
There are also featurettes on the restoration process, original trailers and other appreciations by film experts.
Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3.5 stars