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Grande Illusion, La

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    Ian Jane
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  • Grande Illusion, La



    Released by: Lionsgate

    Released on: July 31, 2012.

    Director: Jean Renoir

    Cast: Jean Gabin, Erich Von Stroheim, Pierre Fresney, Dita Parlo

    Year: 1937

    Purchase From Amazon


    The Movie:


    Directed by Jean Renoir, who co-wrote with Charles Spaak, 1937's La Grande Illusion is widely considered one of the greatest and most important films to ever deal with the themes of war, both in terms of military conflict and class struggle.


    Set during World War One, the story follows two French servicemen, Captain de Boieldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and Lieutenant Marechal (Jean Gabin) who are shot out of the sky by German soldiers and promptly taken prisoner. The man responsible for their capture is Captain von Rauffenstein (Eric von Stroheim), who soon after taking them prisoner invites them to dine with him. de Boieldieu and von Rauffenstein are both of upper class backgrounds and soon find that they enjoy one another's company quite a bit. de Boieldieu and Marechal are shipped off to a larger prison camp where they meet other prisoners of varying nationalities and backgrounds. Soon enough they make the acquaintance of an imprisoned Jewish banker named Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio) who lets them in on a secret - he and some of his fellow prisoners are secretly building a tunnel that they hope will allow them to escape.


    Before anyone can make their way out of the camp, the French make headway and the Germans promptly retreat - but not before they ship the prisoners of war off to a different far more depressing prison built inside a giant old castle surrounded by armed guards. Escape from this location will be very difficult indeed. When it turns out that this prison is actually run by von Rauffenstein, de Boieldieu and Marechal are given a tour of the facility, after which they figure with Rosenthal's help, they just might be able to make an escape after all…


    Throughout the movie we're reminded that the bourgeoisie characters in the film, chiefly de Boieldieu and von Rauffenstein, expect that when the war ends they'll be able to return to the privileged lifestyle they knew before. With this theme a constant in the film, Renoir makes it perfectly clear that much of the film is as much an allegory for the differences and struggles that exist between the rich and the poor as it is about prisoners of war attempting to escape their German captors. This makes the film interesting on a socio-political level (particularly when you consider the year in which it was made and what would soon happen on the global playing field), as we see the wealthy characters more or less forced to join those they would have previously considered beneath them in the service of their respective countries - though Renoir makes it clear that their attitudes haven't changed the way you might expect them to.


    The film moves at a good pace and features some excellent performances from the three principal performers. The supporting cast is also strong and Renoir directs the film with confidence. There's enough style here and enough attention to detail to ensure that the film looks as good as we can assume the man behind it wanted it to look. Joseph Kosman's score is quite excellent and the film still proves a powerful and heartbreaking watch, a legitimately classic tragedy the importance of which has not diminished in the least over the years.


    Trivia Note: When the German's took Paris during the Second World War, they confiscated the negative (see the extras for more on this interesting real life history of the film) and it was believed lost for decades after.


    Video/Audio/Extras:


    It's hard to imagine the beautifully restored 1080p high definition AVC encoded 1.37.1 black and white image looking much better than it does on this Blu-ray. Contrast looks perfect and the image is strong from start to finish, showing exception detail and clarity for a film of this age. If you really look for it you'll spot a few minor blemishes here and there but otherwise the film is presented in excellent condition with nary a scratch in sight. There are no obvious issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement and the end result is a very pleasing, film like image that should make any fan of this movie very happy indeed.


    You've got the option of watching the movie in DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks in the film's original French language and in a dubbed German track with optional subtitles offered up in English and German. While the audio is obviously limited by the original elements and recording, the French track is presented in very nice shape offering up clear audio and properly balanced levels. There's no noticeable hiss or distortion to complain about and the mix sounds as clear as you'd want it to without ever sounding artificial. Again, a very nice job.


    The supplements on the disc kick off with a twelve minute long introduction that comes courtesy of Ginette Vincendeau that does a fine job of putting the movie into context alongside some other notable entries in Renoir's filmography before offering up a welcome history of the film and its distribution. From there we get a twelve minute long featurette entitled The Original Negative: A Remarkable Story which lets Natacha Laurent of the Toulouse Film Library give a history of the library and its founder before discussing how they found the original negative for the feature completely by accident in Moscow. Success and Controversy by Olivier Curchod is a twenty-three minute long featurette that lets the French film historian discuss the importance of the film not only as it relates to Renoir's output but as it relates to French cinema in general. He also makes some interesting points about the film's history and how it was banned during the Second World War. The four and a half minute short featurette John Truby Talks About La Grande Illusion lets the writer talk about the film's script and offer up some welcome insight into its themes.


    Rounding out the extras are the film's original 1937 theatrical trailer, the film's 1958 re-release trailer, a three and a half minute long restoration demo showing just how much work went into cleaning up the movie, menus and chapter stops. All of the extras on the disc are presented in high definition.


    The Final Word:


    Lionsgate and Studio Canal have rightfully rolled out the red carpet for one of Jean Renoir's most memorable and important films. A picture whose message rings as true today as it probably did when first shown, La Grande Illusion really is quite a masterpiece and this Blu-ray presents it not only in fantastic shape but with a decent amount of extras that provide some welcome historical and socio-political context for the film as well. All in all, an excellent release in pretty much every way you could hope it would be.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

















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