During 1st WW, two French officers are captured. Captain De Boeldieu is an aristocrat while Lieutenant Marechal was a mechanic in civilian life. They meet other prisoners from various backgrounds, as Rosenthal, son of wealthy Jewish bankers. They are separated from Rosenthal before managing to escape. A few months later, they meet again in a fortress commanded by the aristocrat Van Rauffenstein. De Boeldieu strikes up a friendship with him but Marechal and Rosenthal still want to escape..
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As we examine a particular work by Jean Renoir, we can recognize his significant influence on realism. Through his use of situational subtleties and complicated cinematic and photographic techniques, Renoir laid the foundation for future filmmakers and their representations and references of specific historical periods. Renoir’s style was greatly appreciated, admired, and imitated by filmmakers. Moreover, it was the way Renoir made the realism occur. His attempt to establish a role and trigger particular feelings for the audience was captured through the remarkable concoction of his unique camera movement. In the film Grand Illusion, Renoir, realizing the current social affairs and conflicts taking place, juxtaposes the incompatibilities among social classes with mixed attitudes on warfare. His active camera movement highlights and captures the nuances of the various classes in a vivid manner.
Renoir develops and centers the film around a group of French men; however, each man represents a different class which serves as a basis for his intentions of explaining the main conflict about war. Each character has different opinions about the war, and we see this during the scene when each man is asking each other what the war means to them. In order to communicate the relationship between the men much camera movement is used. For instance, when the group of men discover the tunnel, the tracking of the camera appears to connect the characters, going from one side of the room to the other. Renoir continually shows his distaste for warfare by showing the common elements which link the French and German soldiers in peace and wartime. In one scene, French and German men are talking about the same restaurant that they used to work at, and in another scene, a German soldier recognizes a French song that was played in the beginning. Part of Renoir’s commentary on war is reflected in the camaraderie of the French and German soldiers which is depicted in the film, but these token relationships cannot be mistaken as equality. As we can see, Renoir attempts to show the war as an inevitable farce.
The constant tracking of showing men helping each other suggests that for them, war is not something that divides, but unites. When Marechal and Rosenthal escape they come to a disagreement, mainly in part because of their different social status, but they each feel the same way about war and comes to a resolution.
A main piece in establishing the distinct social classes is Renior’s effort to emphasize the attitude of the aristocrats. In several scenes, the aristocrats are speaking English in order to exclude themselves from the others. When de Boeldieu is dying, he says to Rauffenstein that he doesn’t want to be soft, and would rather die than do work. De Boeldieu’s refusal to be on the same line as the other men, seeing them as different, and accepting it reinforces Renoir’s message that war is created by the conflicts of the period’s social classes. In many ways, the soldiers in this film parallel the conflict of the period’s social classes, the demise of aristocracy and the upsurge of the working classes which eventually would alter the wealth and manners of the world.
Grand Illusion confronts the inappropriate actions by different social classes which lead to violence and war. Renoir uses cinematic parallelisms to suggest that the French and German soldiers can live in relative harmony within the prison, but this is an illusion which they recognize. He shows the soldiers eating together and to some degree socializing together as if there is a certain acceptable notion that war, nobility, and social classes can co-exist.
Therefore, it can be concluded, that Renoir is trying to say that the grand illusion is distinguished through the main conflicts between the social classes because they want different things for the world. The message of Grand Illusion is that nobility and class can exist in the midst of a horrible, deadly war.