Grand Scheme

As a matter of mere consumer advice, there is no better movie-for-your-money bargain in the city than the newly restored revival of Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion. Whether you saw it years ago in a foggy TV print at the Thalia or on PBS or never saw it at all, there's no excuse for doling out cash for a new film when this living, breathing, 61-year-old experience is running in the most pristine version this nation's ever seen. (That includes new subtitles, which clarify the puns and uncloak the frank sexual references.) All right, it's not The Rules of the Game. But if Grand Illusion is second best, that's like saying it's the second-best oyster you've ever had. This is a movie that melts in your mouth—the fluency, visual modesty, and heartbreaking grace with which it tells its rueful WWI-POW story is as good as the medium gets. Like every other Renoir, the film has enough details to reward yearly viewings (I never noticed before, or perhaps never remembered, Marcel Dalio's quick tear-wipe after Jean Gabin returns from solitary). Sure, the film's portrait of wartime ethics and camaraderie might be unrealistically humane and sweet, but war was never Renoir's topic; humanity was. And, on top of all that, there's Dita Parlo.

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