Grand Illusion

So fresh and vibrant...luminous.


Grand Illusion

Part of our Anniversary Classics series. For details, visit:
80th Anniversary Screenings
Wednesday, November 14, at 7 PM
Royal, Town Center, and Playhouse

Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present the latest in our Anniversary Classics Abroad program, Jean Renoir’s anti-war masterpiece, 'Grand Illusion.' We present this program to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. Renoir’s film is generally regarded as the finest set during the First World War, and it endures as a memorable lament for the loss of an entire generation.

Part of the originality and impact of 'Grand Illusion' comes from the fact that it has no battle scenes. Much of it is set in a German prison camp where several French soldiers are under the command of an aristocratic German officer, played by silent film director Erich von Stroheim. The prisoners are portrayed by rising French actors Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, and Marcel Dalio. Their struggle to escape the camp provides the suspense in the film’s second half.

Throughout the picture, Renoir sees the humanity in both captives and captors, and the film is especially notable in its portrayal of Dalio’s character, a wealthy French Jew. Filmed on the eve of the Second World War, Renoir deliberately chose to include a prominent Jewish character at a time when virulent anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called 'Grand Illusion' “Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1.”

Elsewhere, the film received nothing but acclaim. In 1937 it won a prize at the Venice Film Festival for Best Artistic Ensemble. When the film opened in the United States in 1938, it became the first foreign language film ever to be nominated by the Academy for Best Picture. (This would not happen again for 30 years, when 'Z' received a Best Picture nod in 1969.) Over the years the film was acclaimed by critics and also by other filmmakers. Orson Welles named 'Grand Illusion' as one of two films he would take with him to a desert island.

When the film was reissued years later, the
New York Times’ Janet Maslin called it “one of the most haunting of all war films… an oasis of subtlety, moral intelligence and deep emotion on the cinematic landscape.” Pauline Kael praised the film as “a triumph of clarity and lucidity; every detail fits simply, easily, and intelligibly.” And Leonard Maltin acclaimed “Renoir’s classic treatise on war, focusing on French prisoners during WWI and their cultured German commandant. Beautiful performances enhance an eloquent script.”

Long acknowledged as one of the world’s great classics, GRAND ILLUSION was at one time thought lost. Declared "cinema enemy number one" by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, its camera negative was confiscated by the Germans soon after they occupied France in 1940, then sent to Berlin's Reichsfilmarchiv, which in turn was seized by the Red Army in 1945. Although the negative was completely intact and safely stored, even Renoir didn't know of its existence and had to assemble a new dupe negative for its 1958 reissue.

In the mid-60s, the Cinémathèque of Toulouse, France, reached a détente with its Soviet counterpart. The GRAND ILLUSION negative was part of a film exchange, but it sat on a shelf in Toulouse for decades before anyone noticed. In the late 90s, the material was transferred to the French State Film Archive for inventory and, in 1999, the first restoration was undertaken by Canal+ Image (now Studiocanal).In 2011, Studiocanal and the Cinémathèque de Toulouse embarked on a new restoration using the latest digital technology. The nitrate camera negative (which was still in remarkable condition) was digitized in 4K by the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna. The sound was given special treatment; the nitrate variable density soundtrack was scanned, allowing a restoration with sharper sound quality. A 35mm record of the restored element will guarantee the film’s preservation for at least a century. The restoration’s newly revised subtitles capture the wit of the Renoir-Charles Spaak screenplay like never before. One of the legends of cinema, GRAND ILLUSION now looks and sounds better than ever.


“Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1.” -- Joseph Goebbels

“All the democracies of the world must see this film.” -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Not Rated
Anniversary Classics, Drama, War
French, German, Russian, English
Jean Renoir
Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo

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