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Sunday October 21st 2018

La Grande Illusion | 1937

La Grande Illusion filming location: Haut Koenigsbourg Castle, France
La Grande Illusion filming location: Haut Koenigsbourg Castle, France | Photograph: wikimedia / Reynald Ramseier

For many years it was assumed that Jean Renoir’s masterpiece had been destroyed in an Allied air raid in 1942, until a copy of the negative turned up in an archive in Toulouse, where it had lain unrecognised for decades.

The ‘Hallbach’ POW camp for officers, in which Lieutenant Maréchal (Jean Gabin) is initially incarcerated, is the army barracks at Colmar, in Alsace, northeast France toward the German border. The barracks still exists, virtually unchanged, and is now home to the 152nd Infantry Regiment, ‘The Red Devils’. It stands on the southwest corner of the roundabout at Rue du 152E Rgt d’Infanterie (D83) and Route de Strasbourg, north of the town in the Quartier Saint-Léon.

Colmar is famous for its beautifully preserved old town, which is so visually striking that, along with the neighbouring town of Riquewihr (a few miles north), it inspired the design of Studio Ghibli’s classic 2004 animation, Howl's Moving Castle. If you’re visiting, it’s also worth remembering that Colmar is considered to be the capital of Alsatian wine.

When the officers are transferred by train to another camp, the red brick station they pass through is Neuf-Brisach, a few miles southeast of Colmar. It’s since been demolished.

They’re headed for ‘Wintersborn’, the fortress prison overseen by Captain von Rauffenstein (Erich von Stroheim), which is Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle, overlooking the village of St Hippolyte. The castle, which is open to visitors, is 16 miles north of Colmar, and 35 miles south of Strasbourg.

When Marechal and Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio) eventually escape from ‘Wintersborn’, they struggle through the snowbound hills above the village of Fréland, a few miles northwest of Colmar, to find temporary shelter at a nearby farm.