By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 15, 2012)
Le Grande Illusion – Lion’s Gate Blu-ray
While it may be hard for some to fathom in this oh so cynical age we live in, there was a time when there were these thingies called honor, loyalty, sacrifice, faith in your fellow man, and (what’s that other one?) basic human decency. While ostensibly an anti-war film, Jean Renoir’s 1937 classic is at its heart a timeless treatise about the aforementioned attributes. Erich von Stroheim nearly steals the movie (no small feat, considering all the formidable acting talent on board) as an aristocratic WWI German POW camp commandant. Jean Gabin and Pierre Fresnay are also outstanding as French POWs of disparate class backgrounds. The narrative follows the prisoners’ attempt to escape, and the fateful paths that await each. Rich and rewarding.
Lions Gate’s Blu-ray release is part of their Studio Canal collection (their answer to Criterion). This edition sports an excellent transfer and illuminating supplements, particularly one covering the fascinating history of the film’s original negative, which somehow survived a circuitous journey (from WW2 to present-day) from France to Germany to Russia, and then back to France.