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The Grand Illusion

What is the grand illusion in The Grand Illusion? How does Jean Renoir’s realism work for this World War I film? Why is director/actor Erich von Stroheim so memorable as the director of the POW camp? And why is Dita Parlo so high in the credits? Tune in to this week’s show to get answers to these questions and more!

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"To be killed in a war is a tragedy for a commoner. For you and me? It’s a good way out.”

Seeing a foreign language film get nominated for Best Picture may have seemed strange for those in the Academy back in the late 30s, but after seeing Jean Renoir’s film La Grande Illusion, it may have made more sense. The film was about World War I – the Great War (if there really can be such a thing) – but was made during the rise of fascism and the rumblings of World War II. Renoir preaches a humanistic take, which one might have said was too optimistic for its time, but it certainly was affecting and popular because of it. That popularity also led to its being banned in several countries because its viewpoint didn’t make sense at that moment in history – or seemed downright dangerous. Still, the film’s found its way into many people’s hearts and into the annals of cinema history as one of the greats. But a Best Picture nomination? How does that fit in with the Academy? Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we kick off a new series looking at Foreign Language Films Nominated for Best Picture, starting with Renoir’s 1937 film Grand Illusion.

We talk about the nature of a war film like this that doesn’t show battles or trenches but instead focuses on POW camps and social classes, and what that means for the film and expectations. We look at Renoir and his realist type of filmmaking. We chat about Jean Gabin, Erich von Stroheim, Pierre Fresnay, Dita Parlo, and more actors and look at what they bring to the table. We touch on the camerawork, production design, and music. And we break down the Best Picture race in 1938, debating whether this film makes sense in the lineup and if it should’ve won or not.

It’s a classic film, but one that certainly takes some warming up to. We have a great time talking about it on this week’s show, so check it out then tune in! The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins.

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