(Review originally written at 11 July 2008)

Of course this movie is being called the French version of "The Great Escape". Not because it has a similar plot, settings or main characters (on the contrary, since this movie is actually set during WW I) but because "The Great Escape" is about the ultimate movie within its genre, to which every other prison camp movie gets compared, no matter if the were made prior or after "The Great Escape".

It's a fine movie, that is directed by well known and acclaimed French director Jean Renoir. The directing is really superb for the movie. Every shot gets skillfully directed, often with lots of eye for detail. Yes, it perhaps is foremost the directing and its storytelling which makes "La Grande illusion" such a fine movie to watch.

But is it me, or is the second halve of this movie much weaker than its first? From the moment on when the main characters are being placed in the other camp/fortress the movie and it story sort of starts to get weaker, since the story and its main characters are being placed out of the environment that worked out so well for the first halve of the movie. Can't really say why but the movie just became a bit less interesting and was a bit dragging in parts. In the first halve the movie didn't really need a story, since it simply showed the war situations as the they were. Perhaps you should see it as a build up for the second halve of the movie, in which the characters are established and a main clear plot line is more clearly present.

The movie doesn't feature very well known actors (unless you're into French cinema of the first halve of the 20th century) but this works out well for the movie and its progress. It offers some surprises with its story and characters. The only well known actor of the movie is Erich von Stroheim and he indeed is a great actor and also shows that in this movie with his really great role but his German as well as his French accent sounded a bit off, probably due to the fact that he went to the States, early on in his life. This is a small but notable point of critique of an otherwise fine performance, that should had probably earned him an Oscar nomination.

The movie did receive an Oscar nomination for best motion picture of the year, which is obviously a big accomplishment for a foreign language movie. It also should be noted though that "La Grande illusion" in its year was nominated along with 9(!) other movies for the award.

It's a movie that uses nice and realistic looking settings and costumes. Hollywood movies from the same time period also tend to look a bit cheap, with its often fake looking backgrounds and cardboard sets.

A solid French war movie, without the war, from director Jean Renoir.


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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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