Sunday, December 13, 2009

#1: Grand Illusion

(Jean Renoir, 1937)

There are only a few movies in history that would seem right sporting the #1 spine. Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion is one of them, an undisputed classic from one of the most praised directors of all time. The film's main premise - that the notion of unresolvable differences between countries pales in comparison to the chasm that separates the classes the world over - is classic 20th century political film fodder. Renoir executes it perfectly, crafting a story about men stuck in the wrong war, the one about borders rather than social structures.

World War I is the classic anti-war-movie war, both because of its pointlessness and the sense that it was the last war of its kind, one fought with a different kind of honor. I might prefer the anti-authoritarian bent of Kubrick's Paths of Glory to the socialist manifesto on display here, and Renoir's own farce Rules of the Game might seem to me the more exhilarating send-up of the upper class. But Grand Illusion remains one of the great anti-war films ever made, and a great standard-bearer to begin the DVD version of the series.

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