In Search of La Grande Illusion

A Critical Appreciation of Jean Renoir’s Elusive Masterpiece

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About the Book

This is an extended analysis of the film, from different perspectives. The first half is largely a discussion of the cinematic technique, with key sequences analyzed shot by shot. The second half approaches the film from many other angles, including its history, the critical reception, Renoir’s life and career, and film theory, e.g., film in relation to music. A case is made that Renoir’s career was inconsistent, especially after La Règle du jeu but also during the 1930s. And rather than emphasizing the humanist, anti-war thrust of La Grande Illusion, the film is approached as a work of art that is deeply expressive cinematically.

About the Author(s)

Nicholas Macdonald, as an independent filmmaker, made a series of low-budget 16mm political films in the early 1970s. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Bibliographic Details

Nicholas Macdonald
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 268
Bibliographic Info: 81 photos, filmography, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6270-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0620-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface: Beware the Trojan Horse 1
Part I: The Film
1. The Blowup in the Mountains 8
2. La Grande Illusion: A Misplaced Classic 13
3. French Air Base/German Canteen 18
4. The Film’s Structure 25
5. Aspects of Style 27
6. Hallbach 34
7. Wintersborn (the Opening) 49
8. Themes and Relationships 53
9. Maréchal and Boeldieu 59
10. Boeldieu and Rauffenstein 66
11. Elsa’s Farm 80
12. FIN: The Swiss Border 102
Part II: Around the Film
13. La Grande Illusion: A History      110
14. The Road Not Taken… 121
15. …and the End of the Journey 125
16. An “Anti” Anti-War Film 128
17. The Art of Collaboration 131
18. Other Takes, Different Angles 136
Part III: The Director
19. Jean Renoir: A Biographical Sketch 146
20. Peaks, Valleys and Slippery Slopes (1936–1939) 172
21. Revenge of the Treatment: Le Caporal épinglé (1962) 190
Part IV: Coda
22. Film as Film—and the Music Within      198
23. The Director Among Directors 213
24. 24 Frames Per Second, Forever 216
Appendix A. Title Credits 225
Appendix B. The Story 229
Appendix C. Breakdown of Shots 233
Filmography of Jean Renoir 243
Chapter Notes 247
Bibliography 251
Index 253

Book Reviews & Awards

“This is a rare and valuable work…I urge you to read Macdonald’s book”—David Thomson, The New Republic; “Macdonald gives us an admirably documented and extensively illustrated treatment of the film…. His scholarship is thorough, with a meticulous break-down of shots and detailed notes on all the major figures involved with the film, in front of or behind the camera…recommend”—Oxford University Press Journals French Studies; “a well-documented and extensively-illustrated treatment of the film…recommend it”—French Studies; “Macdonald tracks the issues of the film very closely, adds several surprises, and makes us wish the film was more available”—ProtoView.