‘For a commoner, dying in a war is tragedy. But for you and me, it’s a good way out.’
Jean Renoir’s this touchstone anti-war masterpiece is not just the father of all POW films but much more than it. It represents the profound truth of humanity with unsettling irony on human conditioning. Set on the background of First World War it focuses on camaraderie between German occupied French POW soldiers and their escape plans and attempts. Along with satire on war and its futility, it’s also conceit on humanity and its conditioning, class distinctions, pipe dreams and human existence. And at the same time its breathing human story about friendship with adversary, love and bonding, duty and faith, trust and hope, and above all the grand illusion among all- the life itself.
Renoir without showing atrocity of battle on a single scene straightly focuses the tale on characters and human drama. The first half of the film is quite light hearted one, with introduction of characters and their fun and their futile escape attempt whereas the second half is quite serious note with an escape with a personal tragedy but ended with beautiful hope and humanitarian vision. The film has brilliant cast and memorable performances- whether it’s Jean Gabin as Lt. Marechal or Pierre Fresnay and Marcel Dalio. But the most striking one and unavoidable one is performed by Eric von Stroheim’s as German POW officer von Rauffenstein whose presence is felt even in very limited scenes. It has all the things that proclaimed it as great film including striking dialogues, fine B&W camerawork and memorable characters. No wonder why Woody Allen often quoted as the greatest film ever made.
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