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The Right to DifferenceFrench Universalism and the Jews$
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Maurice Samuels

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226397054

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226399324.001.0001

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The Jew in Renoir’s La grande illusion

The Jew in Renoir’s La grande illusion

(p.117) 5 The Jew in Renoir’s La grande illusion
The Right to Difference

Maurice Samuels

University of Chicago Press

Chapter Five analyzes debates about the Jews between the world wars by focusing on Jean Renoir’s classic film La Grande Illusion (1937). Produced against the backdrop of the growing threat of fascism, Renoir’s film depicts the bonds formed by a group of French officers, one of whom is Jewish, in a series of German prison camps during World War One. Despite its anti-fascist message, the film has puzzled critics since its release because of its abundant recourse to antisemitic stereotypes. And yet, this chapter argues that it is precisely the fact that the Jewish officer is included in the symbolic national group despite his stereotypical traits that makes the film remarkable because the brand of universalism advocated by Renoir does not exclude Jewish particularism.

Keywords:   Jean Renoir, La Grande illusion, film, stereotypes, WWI, world war one

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