“The Elusive Corporal, Renoir’s Grand Illusion of World War Two, is the wickedly and tenderly witty chronicle of a prisoner-of-war’s persistent attempts to escape from a German prison camp after the fall of France in 1940, against odds as unbendingly hostile as any Buster Keaton ever had to face…[T]he corporal (Jean-Pierre Cassel) comes cheerfully back for more, a little wiser, a little more determined, after each successive defeat and the cruel disciplining which follows. Every foot of the film is shot through with the endearing stamp of Renoir’s personality, just as irreverent as the nouvelle vague, and a good deal more loving.” -Tom Milne, Sight & Sound Renoir said, “My saddest film is The Elusive Corporal, despite my desire to make people laugh. I think it’s sort of creepy, don’t you? In a story as formless as-I was going to say the invasion of France in 1940, but I could say the history of the world since 1939-in this kind of shapeless lump…purely human values, like, let’s say, simply the pleasure of being with a friend, stand out.” —BAM/PFA
The son of the painter Auguste Renoir, Jean Renoir became one of France’s most important and respected filmmakers during the middle of the 20th century. A Philosophy and Math student, Renoir became a cavalryman, but was invalided out of the army before World War I. Later, he married a model and aspiring actress, and, following the death of his father and the acquisition of an inheritance, set up his own production company to produce movies for his wife. Renoir learned from these early experiences of financing movies and watching other films, and became a director in 1924. With the advent of sound, Renoir’s career was quickly made with a series of profitable films, including La Chienne (1931), a savage and dark drama about a man’s self-destruction, which was later remade by Fritz Lang as Scarlet Street. Renoir’s subsequent films, including The Lower Depths (1936) and Grand Illusion (1937), were among the finest made in France before the war, and were well acknowledged at the time of… read more
This is a decent piece late in Renoir's career in the same vein as prior works such as Grand Illusion and This Land is Mine, and he gives it sort of a neorealist feel like that of Rossellini without losing his own touch of course.