The Grand Illusion (1937) did not divide France's political factions as much as Renoir's other works did (or as , 1939, would). It was highly praised by France's leftists. Right-wing newspapers in France were reserved in their praise for the film but amazed to note that an artist whose left-wing politics they considered detestable and dangerous had made a film with grand national themes that appealed to audiences of all political persuasions. However, they then went so far as to suggest Renoir must have stolen his ideas from a writer more in line with their beliefs.
Jean Renoir said that prior to making his first film, he was heavily influenced by repeated viewings of (1922), directed by Erich von Stroheim, who was cast in The Grand Illusion and greatly influenced the development of the character he played.
Beyond the warm human exploration of themes and ideas, Renoir's style, at once poetic and grounded in detailed realism, is evident in every frame of The Grand Illusion. In order to amplify the connections between characters and their place in history and each other's lives, the director frequently uses long takes and compositions that include much of the surroundings. Rather than breaking scenes up with close-ups and cross-cutting, Renoir preserves dramatic unity with extended takes, allowing his camera, whether gliding through the action or locked in place to catch characters and events moving in and out of frame; he discovers nuances of events and experiences through spatial and emotional relationships. And in his attention to seemingly tiny but telling details - the German officer's cutting of the geranium after the French officer's death, the rapt silence and attention of the prisoners when one dons women's clothing for a variety show - Renoir infuses the most realistic scene with an imagination and poetry that have earned him his place as one of the handful of truly great geniuses in the history of cinema.
The Grand Illusion has been issued in other versions since its 1937 premiere. Although the concerns were baseless, several cuts were made in a 1946 French reissue to avoid criticism that the original was too kind to Germans and even that it displayed anti-Semitism.