(1937)5Lucia BozzolaA "poetic realist" masterpiece, Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937) eloquently revealed the absurdity of war in a story about escape from a World War I German prison camp. One of the first sound film masters of the mobile camera, Renoir structured his film through a series of long takes in deep focus, moving gracefully yet subtly among the characters to embed them in rather than isolate them from their environments. With this observational style, Renoir examined the "grand illusions" threatening Europe in the 1930s and humankind in general: war and the artificial distinctions of class and nation that drive it. Each of the four main characters stands for a particular social stratum, with their metaphorical places revealed through realistic details of conversation and quotidian behavior. This emphasis on the reality of daily life in prison camps, complete with dialogue in several languages and easygoing camaraderie between prisoners and guards, suggests the core of humanity shared by all, regardless of class, language, and cultural divisions. The poetic final image of an invisible border hidden beneath an expanse of white snow punctuates Renoir's benevolently humanist stance. Grand Illusion was a hit in the U.S. as well as in France, even receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Picture; it also received a special prize at the 1937 Venice Film Festival despite being banned in Italy and Germany. Regularly listed as one of the best films ever made, Grand Illusion's power remains undiminished, while the impact of Renoir's audacious style can be seen from the work of Orson Welles to the French New Wave.