Friday, August 8, 2014
305. Un condamne a mort s'est echappe ou Le vent souffle ou il veut/A Man Escaped (1956)
Running Time: 99 minutes
Directed By: Robert Bresson
Written By: Robert Bresson, from memoir by Andre Devigny
Main Cast: Francois Leterrier, Charles Le Clainche, Roland Monod, Maurice Beerblock, Jacques Ertaud
Click here to view the trailer
BRESSON WEEK: CHAPTER THREE
Hey, what do ya' know - I was able to keep my eyes open long enough tonight to swing in and pound out the review for A Man Escaped, the third in a five film salute to Robert Bresson. Being a prison escape movie, this was a shoo in to be a hit with me and it didn't disappoint.
Not a whole lot to tell, plot wise, as the film is a minimalist fans' wet dream, as we're treated to a collection of shots featuring our main character in his cell, chipping away and plotting escape plans. The whole thing takes place in a Nazi prison camp, smack dab in the middle of WWII. We start out with prisoner Fontaine (Leterrier) being transported, via car, to the camp. He eases his hand closer and closer to the door handle and at the opportune time (or what he thinks is an opportune time) he lifts the latch and makes a run for it. He's swiftly caught and taken to the camp, where he's treated to a small, concrete cell, only a few feet by a few feet. He's called courage incarnate and immediately starts trying to come up with ways to escape his captors. He makes friends with a few fellow prisoners, some of whom he can see from his window when they walk the courtyard, others by tapping adjoining walls and communicating through those taps. Eventually, he's transported to a different cell and it's there where he sees major opportunity for escape, noticing that the door to his cell (a wooden door composed of several slats) could be easily dismantled and slipped through, probably even in a way where it could go unnoticed while he worked on it. He begins his project, stealing a spoon and turning it into a chisel by sanding it down against the concrete floor of his cell. He uses the chisel to grind away at the creases between the wooden door slats and slip them out of place. It takes months, but at least knowing he'll soon be free is incentive to keep going
It probably didn't hurt that my wife and I are still truckin' away on Oz, therefore I've been all hopped up on prison fiction anyway. However I'm such a sucker for prison stuff that it never takes much anyway to win me over. Add to that the fact that I'm an even bigger sucker for escape flicks and this one was a sure fire winner right out of the gate. I have to admit though, that after watching those first two Bresson films, I was a little skeptical. Sure Pickpocket was just fine, but Diary of a Country Priest was downright dull and there was always the chance that Bresson could go extra dull for this one. I'm for minimalist filmmaking however and this was almost as minimal as it gets: unprofessional actors, more narration than actual character to character dialogue and long shots of simply the main character trying to spoon his way out of a solid concrete Nazi prison camp. Sure, it's no Le Trou, which gets even more intricate when it comes to elaborate escape plans, but it was a damn good movie and one that I'd be willing to watch over and over again.
I will say however that the whole "this story has been told exactly as it happened" thing kind of came back to bite them on the butt, don't you think? I mean, hey, I'm all for sticking to the source material, but if ever there was a time to get just a touch creative with a little dramatization, I think it would've worked wonders here and turned this '8/10' into an EASY '10/10'. The book cites suspense rivaling that of Hitchcock, yet the only time I was really edge of my seat, in a Hitchcockian state was 1) when he was filing against the door and it was making that nails on a chalkboard sound and 2) during the actual escape. Other than that, we're pretty much given enough clues to know that he's not going to get caught and it's pretty much established that if he does, he'll get shot on the spot, thus leaving us sans main character. A little injection of suspense here and there - just a touch more - could've done this movie well. I also wasn't crazy about the inclusion of the roommate. Those who read my Treasure of the Sierra Madre review will recall my disapproval when extra characters are introduced, outside of the original three and it was the same thing here, only moreso. They had us stuck in a room with Fontaine for OVER an hour and then popped some other guy on us. I took it as an intrusion between myself and the character of Fontaine and I didn't want to be intruded on. Is that crazy or does that make sense to you all?
There was also just too much time between the time Fontaine finished making all of his hooks and ropes and the actual escape. There's like a twenty minute gap where he shoots the shit with his new cell mate and internally struggles with the decision to tell him about the escape plan or kill him. I wish they could've wrapped that up a bit quicker. I found it unbelievable that this guy who took so many risks in establishing his escape plan would then decide that he didn't want to do it right away - always putting it off until the next night and then the next. Of course, if that's how it actually went down, then what can you say, but again I say a spoonful of dramatization could've only help,
Anyway I'm just picking on something that I really liked - you know the old saying, "Why do we always hurt the ones we love"? Well it also applies to movies. I'm always a bit harder on things I liked because I'm more able to see the possibilities. With films I hated, I'm blind to the possibilities because I just don't care. This is a top notch prison escape movie and one that both Bresson fans and those who are strangers to Bresson will love, I'm sure. Just remember, the film DEMANDS a patient viewer.
RATING: 8.5/10 I can't go whole hog because of the reasons I mentioned, but still damn good and an easy contender for the TOP 20. I was literally falling asleep at the desk there a few times, so if there's a lot of typos or things that don't make sense, forgive me.
MOVIES WATCHED: 837
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 164
August 8. 2014 10:44pm