“The Grand Illusion” and “Gallipoli”

Hist 471

Film Review Paper

There are so many non-fictional and fictional Great War movies available today, that sometimes it is difficult to determine the difference in the two. The two movies I chose to view and consider in terms of their reflection of the reality and impacts of the war both physically and psychologically, were Jean Renoir’s “The Grand Illusion” and Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli”. The two movies had fairly different focuses-whereas “The Grand Illusion” concentrated on the interaction of a group of officers who were captured after their plane was shot down, while “Gallipoli” had a plot which also dealt with the human interaction of the soldiers, however, the movie was geared toward the anticipation of the great battle at Gallipoli. In each of the two movies there are different aspects which must be examined in order to make an educated guess as to the film’s validity concerning the reality of the war and its impacts.

It is hard for anyone living today, who did not experience the Great War first hand, to be able to label a movie, or any other account as either true or false in terms of reality, however, based on those first hand accounts that we do have access to today, an educated guess can be made as to a movie’s authenticity. The biggest issue one faces when determining the validity of a war movie is how realistic the physical fighting is. This is at least partially subjective, as what one views on screen may seem excessive and gory, another may see as not truthful enough and they may even think it is with-holding the truth of the situation from the public. Another problem one faces when determining a movie’s authenticity is not only the believability of the scenes depicting the real war and combat, but also the portions relating to human interaction, morale, and mentality- or, more simply put, its psychological aspect . One can watch a scene from “Gallipoli”, for example and say, “this is factually correct because the Australians are shown interacting in the same setting and type of battle that personal accounts conclude, and also the outcome of the battle is unsuccessful”, but the issue may not be whether that particular war scene is accurate, but rather, if the way that the soldiers interacted with one another was. Did they really all want to enlist, and did they really all sit around and drink and laugh while waiting for the bombardments to commence? Determining the truthfulness of the way in which a person’s mentality is portrayed is even more subjective than the way in which a war scene is portrayed, which is yet another reason that being able to declare with all certainty that a film is accurate is a challenging job.

“The Grand Illusion” was made in the 1930’s, but takes place in 1916 and is a foreign film depicting the experience of several French officers who are captured by the Germans after their plane was shot down. Although I feel that some of the true emotion of a scene is lost when watching foreign films, this movie still was able to get across the more emotional aspects that each of the characters was feeling. The first part of this film which I found interesting and maybe questionable in believability was when the Frenchmen were invited to dinner by the enemy, following their being shot down. According to my understanding of the feelings between Germany and practically any other European country at this time, it seems unlikely that the two groups would dine together, save the fact that Germany was making the rules in this situation. There did seem to be a great deal of reverence for each side though, shown during this meal. Each side seemed gracious and polite for the situation, demonstrating the sort of lost gentility which was brought about as an effect of the war. Because all the men present were of officer status or higher, they had a common respect for each other, no matter their personal sides. This sense of courtesy began to fade away faster and faster after the war ended, as a result of the atrocities imparted on each side. This also, more broadly reflects the change