For the 75th anniversary of Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion, Studiocanal and the Toulouse Cinematheque commissioned a dazzling digital 4K restoration (thankfully from the long-lost original negative), and we can now experience the grand results in this new Blu-ray from Lionsgate. Although Grand Illusion has been critically eclipsed by Rules of the Game, I think it’s a crime that it didn’t make Sight & Sound’s top 50 list.
But the depth of Grand Illusion’s compassion is still very compelling, as captured French soldiers Jean Gabin and Pierre Fresnay and Erich von Stroheim’s hospitable German captor try to hold onto a precarious thread of civilized humanity during World War I. Its bold statement about the fraternity of man is reminiscent of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Indeed, its a miracle that the original negative survived after the Nazis tried to destroy the film. It found its way into Moscow’s Gosfilmofond after the Red Army liberated a treasure trove of French films from Berlin’s Reichsfilmarchiv in 1945. The new restoration at the Imagine Ritrovata lab in Bologna, Italy, has returned sharpness and contrast to the picture and clarity to the sound track. You can learn more about the restoration and the history of the film and its importance in the Renoir canon in the bonus features. Image above courtesy of DVD Beaver.