La Grande Illusion (1937)

Jean Renoir’s pacifist classic is set in a German prisoner-of-war camp during WWI, where class kinship is felt across national boundaries.

Stills must not be reproduced, copied or downloaded in any way.

Film details


“A perfectly constructed, marvellously restrained film that derives its dramatic force from the subtle examination of relationships and, above all, from the intriguing juxtaposition of national loyalties and universal class affinities.”
Ephraim Katz, The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1998

La Grande Illusion takes place in a German fortress where two French aviators – aristocratic Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay) and working-class Breton lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin) – are held captive by monocled Captain von Rauffenstein (played by the silent film director Erich von Stroheim).

Himself an aviator during WWI, Renoir uses the prison as a microcosm to trace mutual sympathies between men of the same class. This humanistic conceit of bonds that tie people together regardless of their nationality or race ensured that Renoir’s film was banned in Germany and Italy during the Second World War, though it was acclaimed elsewhere as an anti-war classic. The prisoners’ rousing rendition of ‘La Marseillaise’ upon hearing of a French victory was later imitated in the Hollywood classic Casablanca (1942).

Renoir returned to the subject of prisoners-of-war for his late film Le Caporal épinglé (1962), starring Jean-Pierre Cassel.


Cast & Credits

Sight & Sound logo

The Greatest Films of All Time 2012

Ranked 73rd in the critics’ poll

See who voted for La Grande Illusion

Back to the top