The Elusive Corporal (1962)

What a curious end (more or less) to Renoir’s film career. Apparently another director, Joseph Lefranc, had spent years trying to get this film made, but Renoir got the job on the grounds that he’d kind of already proven he could do the material (i.e. French prisoners of war escaping German internment) a quarter-century earlier with La grande illusion (Lefranc had to settle for being Renoir’s assistant director here). As such, it often seems to get dismissed as just a remake of that film, but surely the dynamics of the two films are different: the 1937 film is about officers, the 1962 film about conscripts and NCOs; the earlier film looks at the common ground between the French and German aristocrats, while the latter’s titular figure is visibly unimpressed at having to accept help at the end from a German farmer’s wife (married to a French fellow to boot, who says at least he now has land of his own in Germany that he never could’ve had in France), even though it’s a German girl who helps effect his last escape attempt. What’s interesting here is the tone the film takes in depicting the corporal’s many and varied escape attempts (he’s pretty elusive as a character too, it has to be said); IMDB files it under “comedy” as well as “drama”, and certainly it has its lighter moments to justify the designation (although at times Joseph Kosma’s score doesn’t seem to recognise when the film’s being funny), but there’s still something essentially uneasy about the humour and the way it combines with the more essentially serious parts. The whole thing adds up to something that I found really hard to get a grip on, and so apparently did critics at the time, who admired the fairly new talent with whom Renoir populated the film’s main cast but were cooler towards the man behind the camera (though the Cahiers mob liked it as they generally did with Renoir)… and, alas, the industry pretty much gave up on him too after this, with only one more TV film to come and that only eight years later. Interesting, this, but I’m really not sure if I liked it or not.

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