la grande illusion

August 14, 2009

“i think we can do nothing to stop the march of time.”

synopsis for those who don’t know:  some french pows try to escape from various prisons during ww1.  obviously there is more too it.  and during the film i couldn’t help but think of the things that had inspired it (the count of monte cristo) and the things that took inspiration from this film (stalag 17, the great escape).

renoir does a great job of getting you to think about the way war has changed.  i couldn’t help but think about how officers are treated now.  would an enemy take such good care of you just because you’re an officer from your country?  i’m not sure.  the changing of the guard, the shift from the way things used to be to the way they are now is what this film is about.  but maybe that just doesn’t work as well for me.  maybe it’s because i’ve never known the way things used to be.  maybe i’m so ingrained to the way things are now, that the way things used to be seems foreign.  it’s not that i couldn’t recognize it, but it just didn’t have the same impact on me that it would have had on people of its time.

one thing that amazed me was how close to ww2 this film came out.  some of the foreshadowing of the changes in war are unbelievable.  to see things you know are going to change with ww2 foreshadowed in this film is amazing. and apparently as soon as the nazis occupied france it was one of the first things they siezed.

von stroheim is great as the german pow camp officer.  his interactions with boldieu (pierre fresnay) are great, especially their final scene on boldieu’s death bed.  their friendship, their past, is so tangible in that moment.  you can just feel the history between them, and the cultural history that von stroheim’s character is fighting with.  his inward brokenness is only slightly mirrored by his physical deterioration.

renoir never spells anything out for the viewer, he allows the characters to speak for themselves.  he lets the story unfold at a natural pace, is not afraid to add a little humor, but all the while is conscious of how his camera tells the story and speaks into the characters.  he does a great job of positioning every character and interlacing the multiple story-lines and characters.


6 films for fall

August 12, 2009