“You can’t see borders. They’re man-made, nature couldn’t care less./ We’ve got to end this damn war and make it the last.”

The Grande Illusion, 1937

Marechal: “You’re sure that’s Switzerland?”
Rosenthal: “Positive.”
Marechal: “It all looks the same.”
Rosenthal: “You can’t see borders. They’re man-made, nature couldn’t care less.”
Marechal: “We’ve got to end this damn war and make it the last.”

Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin) and Lieutenant Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio), from the film La Grande Illusion, 1937, directed by Jean Renoir


“Always classified as a war film – I find it an anti-war film.”

A German woman, having lost all her family in the war, harbors the two fugitives.

Two POW Frenchmen manage to escape a German prison and head toward neutral Switzerland.
Anti-Semitic feelings towards Rosenthal surface when he becomes lame from an injury.
Marechal overcomes his feelings to stay and aide his compatriot.
Both survive only by the kindness of a German peasant woman.
Maréchal falls in love with the woman, wishing to return to her after the war.
Revived they march on finally spotting the edge of Switzerland where safety awaits.

Love, friendship, compassion supersede national boundaries in this WWI tale, released just as WWII looms on the horizon.”

— Douglas


A German and French officer find they have most everything in common.

The title, taken from a 1909 book by Norman Angell (later called “The Great Illusion”), refers to

the fallacy that the divisions among nations are inevitable causes of war,

an illusion that is large (“grand” in French) but not necessarily exalted or noble.

— A.O. Scott, New York Times: Jean Renoir’s Timely Lessons for Europe

“…when the Germans occupied France, “Grand Illusion” was one of the first things they seized”

“…when the Germans occupied France, “Grand Illusion” was one of the first things they seized. It was “Cinematic Public Enemy No. 1,” propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels announced, ordering the original negative seized. Its history since then would make a movie like “The Red Violin,” as the print moved across borders in shadowy ways.

For many years it was assumed that the negative was destroyed in a 1942 Allied air raid.

But as Stuart Klawens reported in the Nation, it had already been singled out by a German film archivist named Frank Hensel, then a Nazi officer in Paris, who had it shipped to Berlin.

When Renoir supervised the assembly of a “restored” print in the 1960s, nothing was known of this negative.

He worked from the best available surviving theatrical prints. The result, the version that has been seen all over the world until now, was a little scratched and murky, and encumbered by clumsy subtitles.

— Roger Ebert