Grand Illusion ★★★★★

I've been trying to watch this movie for a few years now - this was compounded by the problem that the only disc in the area is the Criterion edition (now out of print since the rights reverted to StudioCanal) in the University of Iowa Special Collections - "special" in that it is rare or fragile enough that you can't borrow it, you have to watch it on the premesis. During working hours. And you have to get in line behind the film students because it is always on someone's syllabus. 

Well, thanks to the magic of streaming - and lawyers, to work out the rights - I was finally able to watch Renoir's pacifist masterpiece on FilmStruck. It is so good. Very good. Erich von Stroheim is amazing as von Rauffenstein, the German pilot/camp director who befriends (?) French prisoner of war Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay). It is so odd, this look at POW life during the early years of World War I where prisoner officers were treated as fellow gentlemen by the old aristocratic order of the German military - compare that to what happened in the coming Second war and every war since. No packages home, letters, friendly chats with your guards. No one wants to be in this camp, not the guards and certainly not the prisoners. There are touches of humor - the vaudeville act, von Rauffenstein's fussiness, the Russian soldiers' astonishment at finding their trunk from the Empress to be full of old books rather than the wished for food and delicacies from home - but there's always the undercurrent of melancholy at being caught up in this war against one's will.

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