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TitleLa Grande Illusion: French Film Guide (Cine-Files: the French Film Guides)
File Size2.7 MB
Total Pages135
Table of Contents
1. Contexts
	A director and his two careeers
	Cast and creative personnel
	Historical and political contexts
2. Genesis, evolution, preparation
	A long gestation
	The evolving script
	The plagiarism case
	The set
3. Analysis
	Film style and group dynamics
	Shooting in deep time
	Close analysis: form and meaning
	Misrepresenting the war?
4. Reception
	Pre-war triumph
	Post-war controversy
	Serene mastery?
Appendix 1: Renoir's films
Appendix 2: Cast and creative personnel
Appendix 3: The evolving script
Appendix 4: Select bibliography
Document Text Contents
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58 L a G R a N d E I L L u S I O N

seems fatuous in the light of the context. While the popular opens characters
out onto the collective, high culture seems to lock them into the self.

As the son of a great Impressionist painter and someone who had grown
up in a house visited by great cultural figures such as the writer Zola, Renoir
was far from a stranger to the world of high culture. However, La Grande
Illusion shows a commitment to the popular that can be connected both to
the Popular Front context and to the director’s dedication to the twentieth
century’s most important popular art form. But just as his repeated depiction
of eating should not be too reductively connected to an epicurean love of
life, his commitment to the popular should not be seen as facile populism. In
his hands and those of his collaborators, far from giving people the already
known, the cliché, the prejudice or the comfort of the familiar, the popular
is inhabited and transformed by the political. In return it serves as a vehicle
to take the political to a larger audience. For politics to inhabit the popular,
translations of course have to occur. This is in part the role played by some
of the longitudinal motifs that we have looked at which serve to take the
political into the everyday and the concrete thus enabling it to speak to
embodied experience.

Translation is itself a recurrent motif in a film famed for its realistic
interplay of a range of languages. Like food or culture, language both brings
people together and keeps them apart. Linguistic diversity is one of the main
ways in which national difference manifests itself in the film, corralling
people into apparently natural groups, impeding communication between
them. But translation and multilingualism build bridges and denaturalise
divisions. The most famous case is the ability of the two aristocrats to
converse in both French and English, bringing their shared class identity
to the fore. A foreign tongue for both men, the latter language provides,
as Michel Chion notes, a neutral terrain upon which they can meet while
underlining the cosmopolitanism of the social elite.6 But linguistic mobility
is far from limited to the aristocracy. Rosenthal, the Jew born in Vienna,
speaks French and German. A Russian is seen giving a lesson in his native
tongue to a Frenchman at the start of the Hallbach section. The German
flyer who has worked in the Gnome factory in France speaks French as
do some of the guards. All these show that commoners can also break
down the barriers of language. But such a phenomenon is not necessarily
progressive. As the example of the guards shows, translation can simply

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Priot, Franck (ed.), La Grande Illusion: le film d’un siècle (special number),
Archives 70 (February 1997).

Prost, Antoine and Winter, Jay, Penser la Grande Guerre: un essai
d’historiographie (Paris, 2004).

Renoir, Jean, Ecrits, 1926–1971 (Paris, 1974).
Renoir, Jean, Ma Vie et mes films (Paris, 1974).
Samuels, Maurice, ‘Renoir’s La Grande Illusion and the “Jewish question”’, in

Historical Reflections, 32:1, pp. 165–192.
Sesonske, Alexander, Jean Renoir: the French Films, 1924–1939 (Cambridge,

Mass., 1980).
Sorlin Pierre, ‘Cinema and the Memory of the Great War’ in Paris (ed.), The

First World War and Popular Cinema, 1914 to the present (Edinburgh,
1999), pp. 5-25.

Sorlin, Pierre, ‘Jewish images in the French cinema of the 1930s’, Historical
Journal of Film, Radio and Television 1/2 (1981), pp. 139–150.

Vincendeau, Ginette, Stars and Stardom in French Cinema (London, 2000).

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