La Grande Illusion

Jean Renoir

T. it.: La grande illusione. Scen., Dial.: Jean Renoir, Charles Spaak. F.: Christian Matras. Mo.: Marguerite Renoir. Scgf.: Eugène Lourié. Mu.: Joseph Kosma. Su.: Joseph De Bretagne. Int.: Jean Gabin (tenente Maréchal), Dita Parlo (Elsa), Pierre Fresnay (capitano Boeldieu), Erich von Stroheim (capitano von Rauffenstein), Marcel Dalio (tenente Rosenthal), Julien Carette (Cartier), Jacques Becker (ufficiale inglese), Georges Péclet (il fabbro), Werner Florian (sergente Arthur), Jean Dasté (il maestro), Sylvain Itkine (tenente Demolder), Gaston Modot (l’ingegnere). Prod.: Réalisation d’Art Cinématographique (R.A.C.) Pri. pro.: 4 giugno 1937 DCP. D.: 114’. Bn. 


T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

It is its ‘realism’ that has kept La grande illusion eternally youthful. Realism is most evident in the film’s multiple lan­guages. Long before neorealism, Renoir based his film on the genuineness of human relationships through dialogue. While realism defines the film, so does the authenticity of human relationships, or rather their truthfulness. This is dem­onstrated in his characters – such as the English prisoners and the German guards: not simply extras, but not quite protago­nists – who Renoir was able to masterfully sketch, infusing them with extraordinary humanity. His realism is less apparent in the main characters who, while never becoming completely ‘symbolic’, are nev­ertheless bound by the dramatic needs of the screenplay. It is invention rather than mere documentary reproduction. Realism is also applied to the camera takes, which never separate the central dramatic sub­ject from the environment in which it is situated.

André Bazin, Réalisme et génie de Renoir, “Radio-Cinéma-Télévision”, n. 459, No­vember 2, 1958

The original camera negative of La Grande illusion plays a central role in the history of the collections of the Cinémathèque de Toulouse. First, because it is a semi­nal work among the world heritage of mo­tion pictures with a profoundly European theme. Second, because, together with French Cancan, it was the only film to provide Jean Renoir with both critical ac­claim and commercial success. But the journey of this original camera negative, which made it to the Cinémathèque de Toulouse, illustrates both the uncertain­ties involved in film preservation and the special relationship between this archive and Russia. Gosfilmofond’s decision to donate the original nitrate base of the film to the Ciné­mathèque de Toulouse evolved as part of a collaboration between the two archives which began in the Sixties, and has solidi­fied over time. Raymond Borde, founder of the Cinémathèque de Toulouse, upon joining the Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF) in 1965 decided to get in touch with his counterpart in Moscow (first Viktor Privato, then Vladimir Dmitriev). This was the beginning of an exceptional partnership based on mutual trust, passion for film, and a shared con­ception of film archiving. It is within this context of the exchange of information, documents, and experi­ences that the original camera negative of the Jean Renoir movie became a part of the collection of the Cinémathèque de Toulouse. But where, and under what circumstanc­es, did Gosfilmofond, officially founded in 1948, find this prized item that Jean Renoir had searched for in vain his whole life? When the Red Army entered Berlin in 1945, they took as war trophies a num­ber of works of art, and especially films, stored at the Reichsfilmarchiv. These ‘film-trophies’, as the Soviets called them, were taken to the Soviet Union on such a large scale that they were one of the main reasons the Gosfilmofond was established. Among these prizes, together with American, German, and French titles – negatives, intermediate works, various positives – was also the original camera negative of La Grande illusion, which the Germans had taken from Paris in 1940 and brought to Berlin. Paris-Berlin-Moscow-Toulouse: the in­credible journey taken by this original camera negative over forty years is a re­minder of the political weight that film has always had. But it also demonstrates that international collaboration is essen­tial to the behind-the-scenes work per­formed by archives to save films.

Natacha Laurent, Cinémathèque de Tou­louse

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Restored in 4K by Studiocanal and Cinémathèque de Toulouse at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in 2011