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La Grande Illusion(1937)
Jean Renoir's pacifist masterpiece stars Jean Gabin as a French World War I POW held by Erich Von Stroheim's German captain.
For more about La Grande Illusion and the La Grande Illusion Blu-ray release, see La Grande Illusion Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on March 12, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim, Marcel Dalio, Julien Carette
Director: Jean Renoir
» See full cast & crew
La Grande Illusion Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, March 12, 2012
Winner of Best Overall Artistic Contribution Award at the Venice Film Festival, Jean Renoir's "La Grande Illusion" (1937) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of French distributors Studio Canal. The supplemental features on the disc include two original trailers; introduction to the film by professor Ginette Vincendeau; video interview with Natacha Laurent from La Cinematique de Toulouse; video interview with film historian Olivier Curchod; video interview with script instructor John Truby; restoration demonstration; Jean Renoir and Jean Tédesco's short film "La petite marchande d'allumettes"; and more. In French, English, German, and Russian, with optional English, German, and French subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
The First World War. While scouting an important area, two French aviators, Captain de Boieldieu (Pierre Fresnay, Monsieur Vincent, Le Corbeau) and Lieutenant Marechal (Jean Gabin, Le Quai Des Brumes, En cas de malheur), are captured by the Germans, after their plane is shot down by the highly respected Captain von Rauffenstein (Eric von Stroheim, Sunset Boulevard, Five Graves to Cairo). Shortly after, Boieldieu and Marechal are greeted by Rauffenstein and invited to have lunch with him. Despite the fact that they are enemies, Boieldieu and Rauffenstein, both aristocrats, very much enjoy each other's company.
Soon after, the Frenchmen are transferred to a large POW camp overpopulated with other French, British, and Russian soldiers of various social backgrounds. There, they quickly befriend the bubbly Jewish banker Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio, The Rules of the Game, Pillow Talk) and a few of his friends, who inform them that they have been digging a secret tunnel and that it is only a matter of time before they use it. Boieldieu and Marechal can't believe their luck.
But the French Army takes over a key battleground and the German Army is forced to retreat with heavy losses. The prisoners are immediately transferred to a gloomy, heavily guarded castle high up in the mountains.
The castle is run by Rauffenstein, who greets the prisoners and immediately gives Boieldieu and Marechal a quick tour of the place. The tour convinces the two Frenchmen that it would take a real miracle to escape from it. Nevertheless, Boieldieu, Marechal, and the Jewish banker come up with a good escape plan - though the plan can only work if one of them stays behind to distract the guards. Boieldieu proudly agrees to be the decoy.
Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion might well be one of the boldest and most provocative war films ever made. Completed in 1937, it offers a fascinating glimpse into a world on the verge of a massive socio-political transformation. Though it may seem otherwise, the focus of attention throughout the film is not on the escape preparations, but on the class division between the German and French soldiers as well as their visions of the future.
The title, Grand Illusion, refers to the belief shared by the two aristocrats, Boieldieu and Rauffenstein, that after the end of the war the old and proper world order would be restored and that their kind will triumph again. It also addresses the notion that people from different social backgrounds can find a common ground when called to defend their country. (Renoir makes it perfectly clear that ordinary French and German soldiers have a lot more in common with each other than they do with French and German aristocrats).
Something else that is worth mentioning is the use of various languages in the film (French, German, English and Russian). To show their supremacy, the two aristocrats often communicate in English, leaving their lowly countrymen clueless about their intentions. While nowadays subtitles are a common feature used in many films, in 1937 they were not.
Note: La Grande Illusion was an instant commercial and critical success in France. In Germany and Italy, however, the film was eventually banned by the Nazi and Fascist regimes. After the Germans occupied France, the film's original negative was promptly confiscated and shipped to Berlin, where later on the Soviets claimed it and shipped it to Moscow. The negative returned to France in the late 1970s, and was consequently 'discovered' in La Cinematheque de Toulouse.
La Grande Illusion Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Studio Canal.
Recently restored in 4K by Studio Canal (in association with La Cinematheque de Toulouse), La Grande Illusion has literally been given a new life. Not only is detail dramatically improved, but the film now also conveys outstanding depth and excellent fluidity. Grain is also evenly distributed and well resolved throughout the entire film, further enhancing the already excellent organic qualities of the high-definition transfer (take a look at screenshots #11 and 17). There are no traces of overzealous post-production sharpening. Problematic degraining corrections have not been performed either. Lastly, the restorers have effectively removed starches, debris, cuts, and stains, and then stabilized problematic frames. As a result, the film looks virtually spotless. Indeed, this is a mighty impressive restoration, and clearly the best presentation of a classic film Studio Canal have produced to date. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content. Also, please note that the disc's main menu can be set in one of the following languages: English, French, or German).
La Grande Illusion Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and German DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (with portions of English, German, and Russian). For the record, Studio Canal have provided optional English, German, and French subtitles for the main feature. (Please note that the German subtitles do not appear when German is spoken, and the French subtitles do not appear when French is spoken).
I don't have any detailed information about the specific restoration work that has been done to share in this review. It is obvious, however, that various stabilizations have been performed, and crackle, pops and background hiss removed as best as possible. (The only time some extremely light background hiss is noticeable is during the Christmas celebration in the final third of the film). Unsurprisingly, clarity and depth are very pleasing. Also, there are no annoying high-frequency distortions to report. There are no sync issues or audio dropouts either.
La Grande Illusion Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
La Grande Illusion Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion is without a doubt the most impressive Blu-ray release in Studio Canal's classic collection. Currently, the film is only available on Blu-ray in France, but on April 5th it will be released in Germany (see here), and on April 23rd it will be released in the United Kingdom (see here). Let's hope that a U.S. release, possibly by Criterion, is not too far behind. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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La Grande Illusion Blu-ray, News and Updates
• La Grande Illusion Blu-ray Detailed - January 23, 2012
Studio Canal has detailed their upcoming Blu-ray release of Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion (1937), starring Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Erich von Stroheim, and Julien Carette. The German release is set to arrive in shops on February 16th, while the French release ...
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