[...] Renoir had had the experience of war; he had been wounded; he had seen the ruin caused by the First World War; and no one but a bloodthirsty madman or a jingoistic armchair general could have wished a reprise. But in his depiction of the noble yet prejudiced Rauffenstein, Renoir advanced a fiction that, though it served the cause of peace, didn't help France face the real danger across the Rhine, which had something to do with the vast outpouring of popular support that allowed an anti-Semitic, expansionist nationalist to come to power—or even with France's own right wing, which looked there longingly.
By the time Renoir made "Rules of the Game," in 1939, his internationalist humanism had grown bilious; his depiction of the Alsatian gamekeeper Schumacher looked German populism in its ugly face, and he showed a France that kept amused with romantic games as it verged on collapse. But "Grand Illusion," for me, has always been a film that was itself a dream from which Renoir himself needed to awaken. In the long term, Renoir seems to have been right—there seems to be relatively little separating the ideals and the practicalities of ordinary Germans and Frenchmen—but it only took the occupation of France; the near-annihilation of the old Germany; a definitive guilt-trip for both countries regarding the extermination of Europe's Jews; and a pall of Soviet authority for them to realize it.
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