Here we go! Criterion Collection – Spine #1. I am really very excited to work on this project… While I have watched several of these films over the years, having a project like this excites me! I wonder how long it will take me to make it through the ever expanding collection? Like I said, here we go…
When the Criterion Collection launched the collection into the DVD market in 1998 they selected Grand Illusion, an amazing film by Jean Renoir, to be the first in the catalogue. I can totally see why, this film is great! I had watched it before but it had been several years and I really enjoyed seeing it again.
The film came out in 1937, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, but is set during the First World War and follows a group of French prisoners of war. It is an interesting group of men, from the moment they arrive make it their prime objective to escape… It is all they can do.
Set in the early 20th century, it is interesting to see the class system flourishing even among the prisoners and the ranks within the army. A bit Downton Abbey even. A lot of the class commentary is revealed in the conversations between French Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and Greman Captain von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim). In a way von Rauffenstein seems to be a symbol of the decaying aristocracy, literally falling apart and de Boeldieu is his last connection to the old world ways… It is like it dies with him.
One interesting thing that I noticed is that the film does not really have a bad guy, it is like Renoir is showing that war is pointless, because really, we are all the same. And for a film about the war, we do not actually see the war at all… I am sure there are other films like this, but I think that is an interesting choice. It is more of a character study. This may also be one of the first examples of a film where all of the characters speak in their native language.
I don’t think I need to do a whole rundown of the plot, I am just reflecting on things I noticed while watching this film. I am sure as time goes on I will really get into the grove of how I want to format these posts, but for now… I think this is all I have to say. Next up in the Criterion Collection is Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai.