Jean Renoir’s ‘La Grande Illusion’ is a poetic and poignant mediation on class, the nature of war and the death of the old European order. Aristocratic Captain de Boeldieu, mechanic Lieutenant Marechal and wealthy Jewish banker Rosenthal are all thrown into the mix together as prisoners of the Germans in World War 1. Separated by a successful escape, they are recaptured and reunited in an imposing fortress commanded by German aristocrat Van Rauffenstein. Boeldieu and Rauffenstein rekindle their friendship from before the war, however this rapport soon confuses loyalties and threatens Boeldieu’s allegiances to the others, with tragic consequences.
A 4k original nitrate restoration has done wonders for this 75th anniversary edition. We are presented with a 16:9 picture that, considering the age of the film, looks very good indeed. The picture 90% of the time looks crisp and clear. Blacks come through extremely well, whites stand out superbly, grain is present and the odd bit of scratching still remains here and there, but it’s hard to think this film was made in 1939 when you see the picture on this. However, there is a lot of edge enhancement that is noticeable on some scenes, and there is also the odd random scene that seems to have bypassed the restoration and is very blurry. Luckily there is not many of these! The edge enhancement does become a little distracting at times as when you notice it for the first time you will notice it every other time, but don’t let this distract you from what a fine job the guys at Studio Canal have done.
We are welcomed with a Dual Mono DTS-HD 2.0 track in the film’s original French language with English subtitles. For the most part, the audio track is a quiet one; I had to turn my receiver up a little more than normal to get it at a comfortable level. The track was punchy when it needed to be and was clean and clear however during quiet scenes a low hum/static can be heard and because of the 2.0 mixing, when things get ‘busy’ on screen the sound does become a little overcrowded and distorted. The subtitles for the most part are consistent with the film and keep up with the pace, however there are a number of scenes where dialogue is spoken and no subtitles appear.
Fans of the movie will be pleased to see that they have been treated with a vast wealth of extras to keep them more than happy. Included with the release is the following: ‘La Petite Marchande d’Allumettes’ from Jean Renoir (short movie, 30 minutes in length), 1937 & 1958 trailers (both introduced by Jean Renoir), Francois Giroud remembers shooting the film (11 minutes in length), Introduction by Ginette Vincendeau (12 minutes in length, in English), Success and controversy by Oliver Curchod (22 minutes in length), John Truby talks about La Grande Illusion (4 minutes in length, English language), Restoring La Grande Illusion (3 minutes in length, showcases just how much work was put into restoring the film) and finally ‘The Original Negative’ (11 minutes in length). All extras unless noted are in French with English subtitles.
Studio Canal have done a fine job on bringing this classic black and white film onto Blu-Ray, and is an accomplishment that they should be proud of. Needless to say, this is the best this movie has ever looked and the best it has ever sounded. The picture is great as is the sound and there is a good wealth of extras on this release to please anyone. I am certainly looking forward to revisiting this again in a few months time to rekindle my fond new found appreciation for this classic film.