September 16, 1938 [La Grande illusion]

Public enemies mount--but none of them are from Brooklyn or Chicago, none of them run whiskey out of Canada or treat small California cities like private fiefdoms managed with machine guns. No, the gangsters run countries now, and they press like deep water on our ears, until the roaring sound breaks and we drown in war.

La Grande illusion hears the flood approach, and sees through the murky waters the last War spread out like blueprints of castles and prisons, all the exits marked, but few taken. The soldiers--aristocrat, mechanic, businessman--see the world from their own windows, while calling out to each other--to escape, to be free--or to be trapped by circumstance and duty. And above it all, finally announcing his arrival, Erich von Stroheim strides with real dignity to his end, wounded but still standing. The aristocrats honor each other, even when they're aiming to kill. It is a complex dwelling they share--the mere shadows of the bars growing solid across their faces.

--Until the end, when the mechanic (Jean Gabin, once more the perfect pug--both the fighter and the little dog--lovable and tough) and the nouveau riche Jew (Marcel Dalio, nicely insulting Hitler, wearing his charm roughly but lightly) finally leave the Illusion behind, play house for a while with a German widow, then cross over to Switzerland--not until a few perfunctory shots are fired in their direction, missing them--for now, until they rejoin and return.

And as poignant as they all are--each finding some nobility they'd always had in waiting--they will return, and sooner than they, or Europe--or anyone--wants.


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