In order to explain on how I got her to watch this classic I need to step back in time a number of years earlier when we discussing The Bicycle Thieves. She had been in a Facebook group where people were talking about classic films and most likely foreign classic films.
Wife: Have you ever heard of a movie called The Bicycle Thieves?
Me: Yes, it is a classic by De Sica
Wife: What's it about?
Me: It takes place in post war Italy about a man gets his bicycle stolen.
Wife: And that's the movie?
Me: Well that and him looking for the bicycle.
Wife: And that's the film?
Wife: And it's one of the best films ever made?
Wife: About a man looking for a stolen bicycle.
Wife: Does he find the bicycle?
Me: I can't ruin the ending for you. Why don't we rent it.
After she watched it with me she turned to me and said that it was one of the best movies she's ever seen. A few years ago on the 75th anniversary of Grand Illusion it was being re-released with a restored print. I found out when it was going to be in town and told her that we have to go see this movie.
Me: Grand Illusion is coming back to the theater, we have to go see it. It is one of the greatest movies ever made.
Wife: What is it about?
Me: French soldiers trying to escape from a WWI German prison camp.
Wife: And that's the entire movie?
Me: Pretty much?
Wife: Just a movie about soldiers trying to escape from prison?
Wife: And it's one of the greatest movies ever made?
Me: Yes. You remember our discussion about The Bicycle Thieves?
Wife: Fine, when it playing.
We met up with some friends of ours who also appreciate classic movies and watched it in the theater. By the end of the film, and those of you who are familiar with the last scene will know the tension. she grabbed my arm and was so caught up in the film when she saw the German patrol in the forest and was scared that they were going to get caught.
Now my wife is a believer like me and will tell people that Grand Illusion is one of the best films ever made, along with The Bicycle Thieves, and goes through the standard Abbott and Costello routine of trying to explain these movies to people.
How good is this movie? Orson Welles once said on the Dick Cavett Show, "If I had to save only one film in the world it would be Grand Illusion." Considering he made probably the best film ever made, this carries a lot of weight (no pun intended). And it was the first foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture.
Now that may not seem like a big deal if you look at it from the modern film era. You have to realize that back then foreign language films did not get recognition, and most of the time for good reason. They were not good movies. There were a few good films, but they weren't considered as good as American films. There was no award for foreign language films. Ten years later the academy started to acknowledge foreign films and almost twenty years after this film was made did a competitive category get created for foreign language movies. For a foreign language film in 1938 to be recognized for Best Picture was an incredible honor. And this movie is worth that honor.
Staring the great French actor Jean Gabin and other well know foreign actors including Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Julien Carette, and the great Erich von Stroheim. The film centers around a group of French POW's and other foreign soldiers in a German WWI prison camp. Besides their attempts to escape and deal with everyday life, there is the drama of the characters interacting with one another, the change in social classes as the world is changing, and the fact that even though you are at war with another nation, we are all human beings with feelings and emotions.
Directed by Jean Renoir, this movie is a classic, although that can be said about almost all of the films he directed. In fact it was so controversial that the Nazi's attempted to destroy all available prints. The film was considered lost until the late 1950's when copies were found and restored. We are all lucky to be able to have such a great film survive.
One last note that will be a bit of a rant towards people who don't watch films that have subtitles. Get over it! It won't kill you to read while watching a movie. You will have enough time to read the subtitles and after a few minutes you won't notice it. And when you think back about a scene later on, you won't remember the subtitles, your brain will remember the actor speaking in English.
Please see this movie. Or watch it again when you can. It is really that good.