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Pages and pages of film criticism could be, and most likely have been, written about this film, so I will just include my simple wholehearted recommendation, in the hopes that whoever is reading this will seek out "A Man Escaped" immediately. I can think of few films with a simpler premise and plot line - it really is only about an anonymous man in prison attempting to escape. That's it. Yet, director Robert Bresson, more than any other director I can think of (with the exception of Yasujiro Ozu), can imbue the drab everyday details of life with life-and-death importance. This director could make a movie about a guy tying his shoes into a riveting cinematic experience. His style of film-making is completely unobtrusive and restrained, because he has figured out a simple truth that about 95% of all film directors never realize: the less a director tries to "push" his ideas through a film, ironically, the greater the range of ideas he is able to elicit in his audience. You bring to this movie whatever life experience and ideas you carry with you; an older child as well as an aging philosophy professor can enjoy this film equally, and for very different reasons. In addition, I believe this is also the most realistic film that I have ever seen. It takes the skill of a master to make reality into great cinema, and this film is one of Bresson's greatest. It could even be his greatest, because though his other films "Au Hasard Balthazar" and "Pickpocket" are great masterpieces, they can never have the same kind of accessibility to virtually any living person in the world as this has.
What makes a movie great? Sometimes we find it in an actor's performance, sometimes it lies in the plot, maybe is the suspense, or amazing action scenes. "A Man Escaped", a movie by acclaimed director Robert Bresson delivers none of those elements we usually associate with great films. However, the expertise and craftsmanship of Bresson makes for an unparalleled experience, full of non-stop suspense that keeps you at the edge of your seat, captivated by every action and every move. In fact, this is one of the first times in recent memory when I don't end up checking my watch, or looking around, or even exchanging a couple of words with my company. "A Man Escaped" simply doesn't allow you to catch your breath. Bresson is known for his very distinct style, in which his interest goes beyond performances or strong plots, but rather relies on the character of his scenes, in the way he builds each and every take to make you build the environment for yourself. Bresson is the mastermind behind the term "suggestive" cinema. He shows you just enough for you to build the scene on your own and it is such a subtle directing skill, that you don't realize unless you carefully study the art of his direction. Bresson submerges us in a prisoner's routine, inside a process of patience and conviction that eventually pays off. Bresson goes as far as to show us the result of the movie in its very title, fully confident that even when you know what will happen at the end, there is no way you won't feel the increasing tension, and electrifying suspense that starts from the very first scenes. At the end, it is a movie about patience, about the intellect of a prisoner whose will and desire to escape a prison portrays the strengths of the human spirit. However, the movie does not have uplifting phrases that often fall into clichés. This, ladies and gentleman, is what cinema can do for us. Less is more.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
That's how François Truffaut greeted Robert Bresson's 1956 masterwork.
It was the golden rule in the offices of "les Cahiers Du Cinéma" to
hammer the common production of French cinema and to hail the
filmmakers who tried something new and groundbreaking for the future of
French cinema. So it's no wonder Bresson was one of the darlings of the
Young Turks of the New Wave.
"Un Condamné à Mort s'est Echappé" was Bresson's unique big French hit and it's sure easy to see why. It's essentially an optimistic piece of work in the filmography of a filmmaker whose pessimism will increase with the years, especially in his final works such as "le Diable Probablement", 1977 and "l'Argent", 1983. But here, this optimism is expressed by the title itself and lieutenant Fontaine's energetic behavior. The persistence with which he leads his plan in a hostile isolated place has a communicative power with the audience and it's impossible to resist to it. This yearning for freedom is present from the very first shot after the opening credits that showcases him in a car driving him to the fort with his hand touching the handle of the door.
This sequence as well as the few shots that open the film on a Mozart music set the scene for Bresson's cinematographic approach to relate this great escape. The filmmaker favors many shots with hands handling various objects and has little care for action sequences. In the first moment when Fontaine manages to escape from the car but is soon arrested, the action is perceived from the same angle. Moreover, German soldiers are reduced to shadows and very often, one can hear them but one can't see them. Then, Bresson kept a principle from "le Journal d'Un Curé De Campagne" (1951) with a recitative voice-over that relates the actions, gestures or thoughts of the main character on the screen. Priority is given to the image and sound. Rarely has sound been so well served here. And of course, Bresson asked his "models" for a deliberately bland acting. The amount gives a visual, narrative tour De force and marks in a significant way the evolution of Bresson's art of film-making.
So, is "un Condamné à Mort s'est Echappé", the most decisive French film of the fifties"? Not really but in Bresson's filmography it is a crucial step for what will follow afterward.
Though the title seems to ruin the end, the movie isn't boring for a moment. Suspense to the end. Marvelous filmmaking. The movie follows slowly and quietly the day of the prisoner who's to be executed and plans an escape. I don't know what else to say. You have to watch this. 32 of the 46 voters gave it a 10! Genius. They don't make movies like this often. Must See for movie lovers and all.
Was there ever a sparer, more concentrated film? The painstaking focus on the ritual-like preparation for the escape is almost wrenching in its calm severity; yet always graceful, always fluid. The details of the final escape make for one of the most memorable sequences in cinema - interspersed with episodes of doubt in which he falters for hours or more before taking the next step, just as he delays the escape itself for many days even though he knows his execution is imminent. It's almost like a sombre dance with death, or at least a morally exacting examination of one's limits and a fear of the transcendent (which in this case is represented merely by freedom itself). There are no moments of light relief or variation here, just an attention to process and causality - the concentration on the plan almost becomes a means of redemption, until carrying out the plan becomes almost superfluous if not destructive. Of all Bresson's films, this is the one that best engages on a thematic level while simultaneously working as narrative - his distilled gravity constitutes a fantastically effective suspense mechanism; a model of tight storytelling.
Bresson's command of the cinematic language...and more importantly, his
restraint... make this a very powerful story of one man's determination
to find meaning in his actions, focused goal, and adherence to his
Presumably tipping off the viewer with the title (A Man Escaped) we already suspect how it will end, and therefore the tension isn't in the final twists of the story, but rather, his journey to that place.
Narrative stripped down of all melodramatic trappings, the film manages to reveal a larger truth about man's struggle against unknowable odds, his struggle with himself, and his resolve to move forward. A couple of the side-characters are from the church, or pastors, which give the ongoing conversations in the common areas an added resonance to "grace" and a possibility of transcendental deliverance. Even though the lead character doesn't seem to truck much with religious faith.
He has his own - in his resolve to escape.
It's appropriate that we barely know why the lead character is in prison, only that he is already on the way there when the film starts. (And even then, tries a failed attempt to run from the car that is transporting him. So much for back-story. The character is revealed through his subsequent actions.)
A simple beautiful film focused on humanity at its most desperate, spare, and focused.
The stoically minimized material, a man's precisely prepared, calculated,
and then executed escape from a Nazi-prison, effectively builds up an
astonishingly intense tension. (For that matter, only similar film I can
recall is Cluzot's Wages of Fear, made a couple of years earlier.) In this
very quiet A Man Escaped, only music is sporadically inserted Mozart, but
might have worked better without any music.
Bresson audaciously began realism and stood alone in pre-New-Wave France, but left tremendous influences on generations of filmmakers to come.
This film is absolutely wonderful but when examined closer, it is merely a simple film and that is the main power. In what it is trying to express, a man who attempts to escape from a Gestapo prison camp, it relates to the existential values at the time. I have never seen a more crisp telling of a drama told in straight forward narrative and easy dialog. What is at the basis of this fabulous Bresson film is man's determinism in the face of imprisonment. Truly recommended.
This movie, perhaps above all others, exemplifies just how important sound
is in cinema. In fact, sounds (excluding dialogue) help carry the plot as
much as the visuals and dialogue.
The crunching of the gravel under their feet really creates a sense of realism to the story. If you or I were escaping from prison, all the sounds Fontaine must pay attention to we must as well.
I doubt you'll find this film at your local video store, but I encourage everyone to check it out. It's like the Shawshank of the 1950s.
An excellent war movie portraying the final days & months of a convicted
French officer trying to escape from a German Prison and a pending
For the majority of the film we are like a fly-on-the-wall observing Lieutenant Fontaine (François Leterrier) come to terms with the fact that he is going to be shot very soon and that no one other than himself is going to come to his rescue.
In addition we share the confined cell with our pessimistic officer. Understatement swamps every scene - but this is very much a good thing. There are no heroics, loud explosions of gunfire, flag waving jingoism or tightened-square jaws here...this is very much reality.
Neither is director Bresson concerned about hurrying the film along. Instead every scene is measured to precision; every camera angle is clearly pre-defined; and every emotion & inner doubt from Leterrier is emphasised very simply.
The film is so claustrophobic that you feel you want to gasp for air such is the tightness of the cinematography and the relatively slow pacing of the plan to escape. But you can't break free, you want to stick with Leterrier and mentally urge him to escape from his appointment with the firing squad.
The last 20 minutes is perhaps marginally weaker compared to the rest of the film and Bresson does have an annoying habit of playing the same extract of dreary music when our prisoner wonders whether his escape attempt will ever happen.
BUT you must somehow track down this film. It is a classic film-noir with a heavy European styling, understated but consuming & passionate.
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