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La Grande Illusion review

This is a brand-new print, struck from the original negative of Jean Renoir's 1937 classic, which was once denounced by Joseph Goebbels as "Cinematographic Enemy No. 1". Set in a German prisoner-of-war camp during World War One, La Grande Illusion focuses on the relationships between a variety of French officers from diverse backgrounds, including aristocratic de Boeldieu (Fresnay), Jewish nouveau riche Rosenthal (Dalio) and lower-class conscript Marechal (Gabin). When they are transferred to the medieval castle of the honourable von Rauffenstein (von Stroheim), they plan yet another escape.

Far more than a simple anti-war statement, La Grande Illusion is also a lament for a dying social order, a dissection of the intractability of class differences, and an examination of the conflict between friendship and duty. Poetically photographed and poignantly performed, this is a film rich in humour and, above all, humanity towards its characters. Even 60 years on, it remains deeply moving.

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