Grand Illusion (1937)
Grand Illusion (1937)
Grand Illusion (1937)
Grand Illusion (1937)
Grand Illusion (1937)
Grand Illusion (1937)

Film Studies

Cinema Classics Seminar:
Grand Illusion

Thursday, November 2, 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm  
Instructor: Jennifer Fleeger, Ph.D., Ursinus College

Directed by a veteran of the conflict it depicts, based partially on conversations he had with prisoners of war, and released at the precipice of a catastrophic time in Europe, Jean Renoir’s anti-war classic Grand Illusion (1937) nonetheless refuses to vilify a swath of mankind. Containing no battle scenes yet employing several significant tropes (the escape attempt, the national anthem, friendship that crosses class boundaries), it is also an example of the influence Renoir had on future war films such as Casablanca and The Great Escape, and on world cinema more broadly.

The seminar will examine Renoir’s restless camerawork, a technique he uses to unite opposing sides and make a claim about the human experience and the role that love, pleasure, and art play in it. As such, the visual style contributes to the film’s statements about the futility of armed conflict and the irrationality of borders. We will discuss the careers of actors Jean Gabin and Erich von Stroheim and unpack the role of vaudeville and drag in the film’s classic performance sequence. We’ll talk about the use of popular and national songs as well as the score by Joseph Kosma. Finally, we will go over Renoir’s history as a director, touching on his visual motifs and thematic concerns. Full of comedic moments and fantastic performances, Grand Illusion is also a deeply moving film that remains tragically relevant.

Are you interested in “just” seeing this movie? Visit the public screening page here.

Cinema Classics Seminars offer an entertaining and engaging way to learn more about some of the true classics of world cinema. All students receive an introductory lecture before the film and a guided discussion after the film. In addition, those in attendance receive a ticket to see it on the big screen, as well as popcorn and a drink. Please note: the screening associated with this seminar will be open to the public, as well.

Please email BMFI Programs and Education Coordinator Jill Malcolm with any questions.


Course Information

$25 for members, $35 for non-members


  • Thursday, November 2 · 6:30 pm