A Man Escaped (1956)

A Man Escaped
Directed by Robert Bresson
Written by Robert Bresson based on André Devigny’s memoir
(number 424)

How shocking this movie must have been when it came out, so soon after the end of the war, and so raw and honest in its portrayal of what happened.

I am really bad at watching war movies, I’ve put this off and put this off. Finally a remote borrowed it from Aro St Video and forces myself to watch it while Anna as out at singing. I wrapped up in warm clothing and a blanket so as to be in as comfortable a position as possible. I also set myself up with creaming soda and chocolate chip Farmbake cookies as those are even more comforting to me.

It’s as it says in the title, an escape movie, and there’s a small bit of comfort in knowing that the lead does escape to write his memoir. But I find it so hard to watch because of the high death rate potential of basically every other character in the film. Plus the knowledge that the situation and the conditions and this horrible treatment of real humans really happened is so freaking depressing.

François Leterrier does an incredible job, as for the most part the scenes are just him working away, looking gaunt and pensive, with his gentle voiceover explaining what’s going on. He’s very methodical and logical, immediately he gets put into the upper floor’s cell that he starts to plan his escape. He does what he can to gather resources, to be quiet but dogged.

The young man who is put in the same cell as him, close to the end is incredibly pretty – very like River Phoenix and instantly relatable because he looks so very young compared to the other prisoners. There’s some suspicion of him, but of course Fontaine has to take him with.

But ultimately it’s all about the escape sequence, right? The slow, careful movement through the compound, building up to the inevitable murder they have to commit to get past the guard and out. The crunch of gravel suddenly becomes deafening, the ringing of bells seems like a great distraction to get something done. The whistle of the train that sounds so much like a scream… it’s tense stuff, brilliantly done.

Does it make me love the people? I immediately felt for Fontaine yeah. I think that’s the obvious reaction to seeing someone arrested and beaten to bleeding at the start of the movie. It’s also tiny things that he does, such as giving a pencil to the distraught rabbi who was recently arrested, and tapping messages to his neighbours in the next cells or scrubbing out the ‘no food and excercise’ note on his neighbour’s door on his first sortie out of his cell. Little acts of kindness which make him loveable.

Bechdel test: There are no named women in the movie. There is a moment very early on when an anonymous woman sends him a pin and the note ‘good luck’ but that’s pretty much all we get. It makes sense, as it is a very small story just around Fontaine and his escape, he’s in the men’s part of the prison after all.

Best line:

Fontaine: Is there anything I can do to help you?
Blanchet: Nothing
Fontaine: there’s always something.

State of Mind: Overall, this movie wasn’t as harrowing as I thought it might be, and I enjoyed the careful, measured way the story is told. The cinematography is lovely, black and whites and lights and darks all seem very artfully arranged. But I am still really keen to watch something fun like New Girl to move on emotionally from the setting of the movie.

Watched movie count


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