Captured French Resistance fighter Lieutenant Fontaine awaits a certain death sentence for espionage in a stark Nazi prison in Lyon, France. Facing malnourishment and paralyzing fear, he must plot an extraordinary escape, complicated by the questions of whom to trust, and what lies beyond the small portion of the prison they are housed in.Written by
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.
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