Where I don’t get Jean-Luc Godard I really do seem to get Jean Renoir. Sure, The Golden Coach had a bit of a cop out ending, but apart from that I have always been delighted by Renoir’s work. With La Grande Illusion I continue to be impressed by Renoir’s film-making.
I don’t mean to state the obvious to begin with, but La Grande Illusion is one of the most influential anti-war films of all time. It is also one of those anti-war that feels like it could only have been made on the continent.
Why? Well, there are no bells and whistles in this film. We start the film with French officers having been captured by the Germans rather than seeing the military action that led to the capture. You could probably count on two hands the number of shots fired in the two hours. These things are important in La Grande Illusion since it allows this film to be a character piece first and foremost.
Thanks to the strong characterisation of French and German characters La Grande Illusion is able to take a deep dive into looking at class and how it transcends the battle lines. Since the characters we follow are officers in the French army, we don’t really see them being mistreated during their time as prisoners of war. So important is the rank of officer that it affords a certain type of treatment.
Because of this we immediately remove a lot of the animosity towards the Germans and have them be either sympathetic or, at least, reluctant. There are no bad people in this film and that’s what is important. That’s what makes this so anti-war. It focuses so much on how similar the two sides are that, when this film was released, Joseph Goebbels wanted to prevent Germans from seeing this as he feared this film would quash their fighting spirit.
So I’ve come out of writing this post asking myself the question of whether I prefer La Grande Illusion to The Rules of the Game. Honestly, I don’t know as these are such different films. I think a re-watch of The Rules of the Game is needed before I can make such a judgement. Before I get to that – 400 films left on the list.