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Grand Illusion

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Tuesday, September 16 at 7:00pm
Free Admission • $5 suggested donation

One of the most powerfully eloquent films ever made about the absurdity war, Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion tells the moving story of a group of French officers who have been taken prisoner during WWI.

“If I had only one film in the world to save, it would be Grand Illusion.” – Orson Wells

Aristocratic Captain de Boeldieu (Peirre Fresnay, The Man Who Knew Too Much) and his mechanic, Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin, Pepe le Moko) are shot down by Captain von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stronheim, Sunset Boulevard), who treats them with customary officers’ hospitality. The two downed pilots are then sent to a German POW camp, where they quickly join a group of prisoners, including a nouveau riche Jewish man (Marcel Dalio, To Have and Have Not), who have concocted an elaborate escape plan. Their plot is foiled, however, as they are transferred to a new camp, the formidable Wintersborn fortress, run by Rauffenstein, who is now grounded due to battle wounds. Rauffenstein, lamenting the end of an aristocratic era, tries to befriend de Boeldieu, with whom he shares a similar background and social rank, but the French captain is already hatching a new escape plan – one in which he puts himself in danger to allow the others to escape. Told with his usual deceptive simplicity and visual panache, Renoir’s Grand Illusion, along with his 1939 classic Rules of the Game, is at once an elegant, class-conscious farewell to Europe’s ancient aristocracy and a profound warning against another world war that Renoir surely sensed was inevitable. A deeply humane exploration of the inhumanity of war and the power of friendship to transcend national boundaries, Grand Illusion was not only the first foreign film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, it was also championed by President Roosevelt, who pronounced “everyone who believes in democracy must see this film.”