Friday, July 4, 2014

La Grande Illusion (StudioCanal Collection) (1937)

La Grande IllusionGrand Illusion is sometimes considered as one of the greatest movies ever shot. It was Orson Welles' favorite. Even though many consider that "Rules of the Game" is more important and brillant. The two movies are very different, both incredible. Grand Illusion is easier to catch immediatly while Rules let you think endlessly. In regard of the DVD : BUY IT EYES CLOSED ! The picture is incredible, looks like it was shot yesterday because coming from the original re-found negative film. It has not even one small spot or crack. It is PURE. And it is the original 114 minutes version, not the well-known 105 minutes. The DVD is full of bonus, the best being the filmed introduction by Jean Renoir, and also the audio archive of Von Stroheim. I cannot express how much I love Renoir and this movie and I hope that Rules of the Game will come up in DVD soon in Zone 1 (it exists in France in Zone 2 with a beautiful master, but has no english subtitles). Then the world can contemplate this masterpiece again and again. Buy Grand Illusion and you'll never think of war and humanity the same way again.

The Criterion Collection has been batting 1.000 lately by bringing out splendid DVD versions of such classic films as "The Wages of Fear","The Passion of Joan of Arc" and "The Third Man". Now, with "Grand Illusion", they may have even surpassed themselves.

The transfer is from an original camera negative thought to be lost for decades and it can't be rivalled for image clarity or sound quality (given that this is a 62-year old film). The DVD version of "Grand Illusion" looks as close as we can hope to its original state.

The film itself is a poignant examination of the conflict between class and national identity during World War I. Three French officers an aristocrat (Pierre Fresnay), a rich Jewish banker (Marcel Dalio), and a working-class capitian (Jean Gabin) are captured and imprisoned by a refined, arrogant German officer (von Stroheim). The French and German aristocrats share a deeper cultural and affetionate bond than they do with the men of their respective countries. When the French captives plan an escape, the aristocratic officer risks himself for a nationalism he doesn't believe in. The scenes between Fresnay and von Stroheim, arguably some of the tenderest scenes in the movie, display a ritual of noblesse oblige that seems absurd today (the people in the cinema where I saw it laughed at these men's tender missives to each other). And, indeed, these aristocratic manners are patently absurd in the theater of modern warfare. Pauline Kael has said that this film is "an elegy for a dying class" and that's partially true it's also an examination of how tenuous the bonds of nationalism can be both within countries (as relations between the working-class Gabin and Dalio later prove) and between them (when a German guard hands Gabin a harmonica). And yet, the acting and writing are grounded so much character and detail that you can be very moved by this film without noticing these underlying theme (the audience that laughed at the aforementioned scenes, gave the film a standing ovation at the end).

"Grand Illusion" has been enormously influental you can see traces of it in "Casablanca" (with Dalio, interestingly enough) and "Paths of Glory", for example. Renoir's direction is wonderfully fluid even his minor characters have unique features. Along with "Passion" and "The Third Man", the Criterion version of "Grand Illusion" is one of the finest DVD releases of the year. Let's hope that they now do the same for "The Rules of the Game"

Buy La Grande Illusion (StudioCanal Collection) (1937) Now

One of the greatest achievement in film history, this Jean Renoir's masterpiece could be seen only in prints and video made from an inferior duplicate neagtive for over 40 years, as the original film elements was thought to be lost during the German occupation (Goebbels and Hitler hated the film, and banned it in Germany at its original release). If you have seen only these versions, you haven't really seen it yet! The new transfer, made from the newly-discovered original camera negative (i.e., the best film element available) is just stunning. For the viewers familliar with the film, there is an added surprise at the begining, for the credit title sequence is different. The crisp trasnfer allow viewers to appreciate the depth of Renoir's masterful direction, for you can see a lot of details that might be lost in inferior prints: for Renoir, it is not just the protagonists that are important, but the whole atmosphere that surrounds them, including the delicious performance from the supporting cast (the Jean Renoir Stock Company, such as Julien Carrette, Gaston Modot and Jean Daste) which makes this film more than just an anti-war film. The DVD also includes the trailer from the 1958 re-release, featuring Jean Renoir himself passionately telling what this movie is all about: "it is a story of people like you and me, caught in the tragedy called war". Grand Illusion is a story of survival, of people who want to live in their best way possible, within their humain limitation. Limitation, for the people can act only within their social class behaviour and their social role. But Renoir never condems or criticize them; the film embraces even the flaws in their perosnalities. It's a great film, and a must-have DVD.

Read Best Reviews of La Grande Illusion (StudioCanal Collection) (1937) Here

Orson Welles, who was not known for his modesty, said that if a cabinet containing every film ever made caught fire and he only had time to run in and rescue one film, it would be the Grand Illusion (not Citizen Kane, etc). Most people watching this film today might wonder why it warrants such high praise. I say this because many of the themes in this film have been dealt with memorably in other films (the first time I saw the Grand Illusion, for example, I couldn't help thinking that I preferred Stalag 17). As a result, the film appears to be less original than it actually was. Modern audiences are also not used to the movie's themes being dealt with so subtly (no bodies are graphically blown up to show the horrors of war, no lower class characters are unjustly executed, etc). Thus it will not attract as much widespread popular praise as such overblown garbage as Saving Private Ryan (which is a complete and utter failure as an anti-war movie after its opening 10 minute gorefest ends). In contrast, this film has a subtle depth which elevates its effectiveness and will keep the viewer thinking long after it ends.

There are many illusions dealt with in the film. The interaction between the upper class prisoners and the prison camp's commandant (excellently performed by Erich Von Stronheim) illustrates the illusion of civility that exists (or should I say existed) during war (people pretending to be civilized while trying to wipe each other out). It illustrates the illusion of nationalism (except for the war, the officers are kindred spirits). The illusion of class is also well portrayed with the commandant arbitrarily showing less favour to some prisoners because of their last name and for no other reason. Viewers with knowledge of history will also note the irony in its theme of the decline of nobility and the ascendency of democracy given that this film occurs during a war in which lowly soldiers were ruthlessly sacrificed by their "noble" leaders in greater numbers than in any other war.

One thing which makes this film different from most others about war or class is that it portrays the noble officers as worthwhile and positive people, but it treats all of its characters with equal respect. This, of course, further illustrates the illusory nature of class.

For a thought-provoking movie, it is also quite entertaining, filled with humour, suspense and great performances. While I would not go as far as Welles in his praise of The Grand Illusion, it is still very highly recommended.

Want La Grande Illusion (StudioCanal Collection) (1937) Discount?

Just have to say that this Renoir classic should have been released by Criterion on blu ray. They did a marvelous transfer of the film onto DVD several years ago and I had to get one of my favorite films on blu ray. I have never really liked how Studio Canal treats these classics onto blu ray. I shouldn't be comparing their work to the likes of Criterion, but when Criterion does such a wonderful job with the DVDs, why not allow them to release stellar blu rays of these classics? The Third Man, Ran, and now Grand Illusion get taken out of Criterion's creative hands and placed into lesser hands. The Third Man was originally released by Criterion on one beautiful blu ray but Studio Canal took the rights back and released a so so blu ray that was not as crisp and detailed as the first. So for me it is VERY hard not to think "What if?".

Studio Canal's blu ray of La Grande Illusion is really good looking, but I feel it could look better. I had the awesome pleasure of recently seeing this great masterpiece on the big screen at Dallas' Angelika Theater with a gorgeous print that I had trouble believing this film was made in 1937! Fantastic presentation all around. I feel that print was not used for this blu ray. If you like films looking like video, then this is for you. I want these older films to look like movies with the grain still intact. Looks as if Studio Canal might have used some noise reduction (can't say for sure, just looks it) to remove the fine grain that was intact with the film element. Is it possible to clean these prints too much? I still prefer Criterion's print on DVD over this blu ray.

The picture is not the only problem. The very small subtitles were now a problem. I watched this movie on a 55 inch TV and find myself distracted by taking my eyes off the main picture to read the small subtitles. If an older person watches this on a smaller screen, they will have trouble reading the subs. It is an annoyance to say the least.

The special features are nothing to write home about. I found them rather boring compared to the magnificent movie itself.

I got to hand it to Studio Canal for "trying" to release this film onto blu ray, but it doesn't shine like it should. I just hope Criterion can keep hold of Renoir's classic Rules of the Game. That is one marvelous blu ray in of itself. Studio Canal cannot compete with Criterion when it comes to restorations of the classics. Criterion just have many more years of experience under their belt. And the proof is in their great looking blu rays.

If you have The Grand Illusion on DVD from Criterion, keep it. This great movie deserves better than what is offered here on this blu ray.

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