La grande illusion

  • Directors: Jean Renoir
  • Producers: Albert Pinkovitch, Frank Rollmer
  • Writers: Jean Renoir, Charles Spaak
  • Genres: Drama, War
  • Actors: Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Erich von Stroheim

During the First World War, two French aviators — aristocratic Captain de Boeldieu (played by Pierre Fresnay) and working-class Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin) — embark on a flight to examine the site of a blurred spot on photos from an earlier air reconnaissance mission. They are shot down by a German aviator and aristocrat, Captain von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim). Von Rauffenstein, upon returning to base, sends a subordinate to find out if the aviators are officers and, if so, to invite them to lunch. During the meal, von Rauffenstein and de Boeldieu discover they have mutual acquaintances—a depiction of the familiarity, if not solidarity, within the upper classes across national boundaries.

De Boeldieu and Maréchal are then placed in a prisoner of war camp, where they befriend several of their fellow countrymen. Soon after their arrival, they help dig an escape tunnel. However, just before it is completed, they are moved to another camp, and because of the language barrier, are unable to pass word of the tunnel to the incoming British prisoners.

De Boeldieu and Maréchal are moved from camp to camp, finally arriving in Wintersborn, a mountain fortress prison commanded by Von Rauffenstein, who has, since their last meeting, been disabled in battle and reassigned.[2] Wintersborn is said to be escape-proof, but de Boeldieu and Maréchal have a history of valiant escape attempts.

Maréchal and Rosenthal journey across the German countryside, trying to get back to France. Rosenthal is injured. They take refuge in the barn of a German woman, Elsa (Dita Parlo), who has been widowed by the war. She generously takes in the two men. Maréchal begins to fall in love with her, but he and Rosenthal eventually head for Switzerland, planning to go from there to France so they can return to active service. Maréchal promises to come back to Elsa if he survives. A German patrol sights the two fugitives crossing a snow-covered valley. The soldiers fire a few rounds, but are soon ordered to let the fugitives go, as they have apparently crossed the Swiss border.

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