January 05, 2007

The Grand Illusion

Jean Renoir's film La Grande Illusion is one of the classics of cinema. It also holds lessons for us today.

La Grande Illusion, released in 1937, is about the relationship between French prisoners of war and their German captors during World War I. What is so striking is the courtesy and respect each side gives to the other. They treat each other as human beings, patriots for their respective countries who happen to be at war with each other not by their choice, and even as neighbors.

I'm not sure if the title "La Grande Illusion" refers to the illusion that people, with so much in common, can go to war and commit violent acts against each other without severe psychological consequences, or the opposite illusion, that people can act with civility toward each other when their natural state is war and violence. Hopefully it is the former and not the latter.

Either way, in the face of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and Haditha, La Grande Illusion is an important reminder of the possibility and the necessity of maintaining humanity even in the darkest of times, and proving that we still deserve to be known as "humankind."

A terrific restored print of La Grande Illusion is available for rental on dvd.


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