The Grand Illusion

Set during the Great War and released while the thunderheads of the next gathered, Jean Renoir's The Grand Illusion depicted the wartime plunge of 1916 while also commenting on its present day of 1937, with Europe on the brink again. The film concerns two French pilots, working-class Lt. Maréchal (Jean Gabin) and aristocratic Capt. de Boëldieu (Pierre Fresnay), who, after being downed behind enemy lines by Prussian Rittmeister von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), are passed through German prison camps while the war drags on. The Grand Illusion marries Renoir's ambling, sneakily complex camera work to performances that show gratitude for the breathing room he encouraged. The essential spirit of Renoir's classic has never dimmed through decades of being projected on bedsheets for college film societies or viewed on deteriorating VHS. Opposing the tectonic grinding of political movements with simple humanity, The Grand Illusion's heroic eminence is the nearest thing cinema has to a lone Tiananmen Tank Man. (NR) NICK PINKERTON

July 13-19, 7 & 9 p.m., 2012

 
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