Grand Illusion (film)

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Grand Illusion (French: La grande illusion) is a 1937 French war film directed by Jean Renoir, who co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Spaak. The story concerns class relationships among a small group of French officers who are prisoners of war during World War I and are plotting an escape.

The title of the film comes from a book—The Great Illusion by British economist Norman Angell—which argued that war is futile because of the common economic interests of all European nations. The perspective of the film, which is regarded by critics and film historians as one of the masterpieces of French cinema,[1] is generously humanistic to its characters of various nationalities.



During the First World War, two French aviators — aristocratic Captain de Boeldieu (played by Pierre Fresnay) and working-class Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin) — embark on a flight to examine the site of a blurred spot on photos from an earlier air reconnaissance mission. They are shot down by a German aviator and aristocrat, Captain von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim). Von Rauffenstein, upon returning to base, sends a subordinate to find out if the aviators are officers and, if so, to invite them to lunch. During the meal, von Rauffenstein and de Boeldieu discover they have mutual acquaintances—a depiction of the familiarity, if not solidarity, within the upper classes across national boundaries.

De Boeldieu and Maréchal are then placed in a prisoner-of-war camp, where they befriend several of their fellow countrymen. Soon after their arrival, they help dig an escape tunnel. However, just before it is completed, they are moved to another camp, and because of the language barrier, are unable to pass word of the tunnel to the incoming British prisoners.

De Boeldieu and Maréchal are moved from camp to camp, finally arriving in Wintersborn, a mountain fortress prison commanded by Von Rauffenstein, who has, since their last meeting, been disabled in battle and reassigned.[2] Wintersborn is said to be escape-proof, but de Boeldieu and Maréchal have a history of valiant escape attempts.

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