Grand Illusion ★★★

Jean Renoir's humanist anti-war drama may be hugely influential and critically acclaimed but for me, I'm afraid, it's one that is going on my admired more than liked list.
It is certainly a refreshing, and much more subtle take on the prisoner-of-war movie genre, focusing in more on what unites and separates people (class, religion) rather than nations.
For example, the German officer von Rauffenstein shows great cordiality and sympathy towards his POW and fellow aristocrat Captain de Boeldieu, but is considerably cooler towards de Boeldieu's two friends, one of whom is working class, the other Jewish.
Later, after escaping von Rauffenstein's fortress prison, the working class officer strikes up a romantic relationship with a lonely German widow after she bravely gives him and his friend shelter in her farmhouse. Solidarity going across national boundaries, is the central theme. National boundaries are illusory and are "made by man, not by nature".

All well and good, unfortunately I just couldn't get invested into any of the characters that much. The only strong character is Captain von Rauffenstein, the extraordinary looking monacled popinjay, tightly packed into his uniform, his metal-plate studdied, war wounded body rendering him rigid. He gets relatively little screen time, but is far the most unforgettable thing about the film.

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