1937 film about a group of French prisoners in a German camp. No “trench action”, just a demonstration of how, when looking up close at the combatants, war becomes an abstract notion. As far as consensus goes, Jean Renoir is the most compassionate director when observing his characters and he’s capable of showing basically no difference between the two opposing sides here. Rather the difference is between the social class divisions inside the same nation. The French officer shares the same notions of chivalry with his aristocratic German counterpart, while the foot soldier, a larger than screen Jean Gabin, just can’t manage to convince him to shed the polite form of addressing, second person, plural. When it comes to escaping, the officer would rather make a point and showoff of his beliefs, rather than stealthy make a run for freedom. Gabin escapes and falls for a German widow that shelters him for a while. The Grand Illusion here being that no matter how alike people are, the war’s end is never in sight.
Camera movements are a joy to follow. You never know where its ballet will finally get you.