BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #63: La Grande Illusion, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I think Bob Marley perfectly summed up La Grande Illusion when he said, “Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life.” I admit I was a little confused by Grand Illusion for about the first half of the film. A group of French soldiers are held at a POW camp and they are digging a tunnel to escape. But the POW camp looked a lot more like a strict summer camp than a prison to escape from. They are allowed extravagant packages from home to be sent filled with food and drink, they have very little interaction with their guards, and they are even allowed to put on elaborate cabarets. I kept wondering why they felt so inclined to escape especially when all that waited for them was a return to the horrors of trench warfare.
Then the men are transferred to a fortress under a new, stricter leadership. It was still pretty relaxed for a POW camp, but it was at that point that it struck me that man will always fight for freedom when their freedoms are taken away. It is in the deepest part of our nature to crave and demand freedom. The film took a turn for me then and became much more interesting.
I loved the relationship between Le Captaine De Boeldieu and Le Captaine Von Rauffenstien. Those two men were on opposite sides of the conflict but could respect and treat each other as gentlemen. Le Captaine Von Rauffenstien was a particularly fascinating character. He had been nearly completely physically broken by the war but he still needed to be in the fight in some way. He also tended a small geranium with great reverence and tenderness as it was a small bright spot of beauty in the midst of a cold, grey war. It was deeply moving when he cut the flower in honor of his friend Le Captaine De Boeldieu whom he was forced to shoot and kill. I appreciated that the film took the time to show that relationship and how meaningful it was for both of them.
I also really liked the relationship between Rosenthal and Maréchal after they escape the prison. They go through hell together and inevitably lose their tempers with each other, but they also know they are in their situation together and abandoning each other is inexcusable. They find a small spark of happiness when they live with Elsa and her daughter for a time but they know they have to try to get to neutral territory. It is a sacrifice for them both to leave but they find the strength and leave them behind.
I was moved by how invested I became in all the characters and their struggles. I am glad this film was on the list and I had an opportunity to see it.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
La Grande Illusion ranking: Battleship