43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
A film about one man, alone, thrown back on his own resources.
If you consider a film which focuses on a single character, mostly in a single location, with minimal dialogue, then you might expect a narrative of great emotional intensity, but you probably would not expect the tension and immediacy that this film also has. I came across it by chance, and stayed glued to the screen, spellbound.
This is not a "Colditz"-style story, with its emphasis on comradeship in adversity, and attempt to see both guards and prisoners as individuals, with human frailties.
The hero is held in solitary confinement - that is why there are so few other characters. The enemy are faceless oppressors; we do not see his interrogation, the torture is evident from the condition in which he is returned to his cell.
The absolute emptiness of his cell is mirrored in the sparse, bare style of the narrative. It has the courage to disregard all extraneous concerns and concentrate on its single theme - the amazing resourcefulness and courage of a single individual, under almost intolerable conditions.
Watching this film is an intense, compelling experience, but ultimately uplifting, as it demonstrates what a human being is capable of.
53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 8 May 2008
I first saw "A Man Escaped" in my Introduction to Cinema Studies course during my first year at university. It immediately became one of the the greatest films I had ever seen. Over time, my feeling on it has evolved to the point that it is now one of my favorite films as well. The story is told in a sparse, visually narrow style that forces the viewer to use their imagination. The prison is never seen as a whole, we are only shown pieces of it--a wall, a doorway, and so on. The German prison guards are more often only heard as footsteps coming to the prisoner Fontaine's cell door. Rarely do we venture outside of Fontaine's cell once he is imprisioned, and when we do, it is usually to the same place, where he washes himself with the other prisoners. With the exception of the end, the plot of the movie revolves entirely around Fontaine's plan and execution of an escape. The magic of the film is that Bresson makes these minutae indescribably watchable; we are invested in Fontaine's every action through the whole of the film, and we watch with anticipation as he grows closer to his goal with each passing month, day, minute. "A Man Escaped" is a beautifully rendered work of cinema, and it will appeal to everyone who wishes to do more than while away the time seeing a simple 'movie'.
Having seen the paltry American disc which is overpriced and intermitently available, I greatly anticipated this release from Artificial Eye, and I am quite pleased. The film itself has never looked better, bright and clean with minimal dirt and clear sound. If that weren't enough, there is also a wonderful Dutch documentary (with English subtitles) called "The Road to Bresson" which is almost an hour long and features interviews with Andrei Tarkovsky, Louis Malle, and Paul Schrader amongst others. There is also footage of the notoriously camera-shy director accepting his award for Best Director (for "L'Argent") at the 1983 Cannes film festival. Finally, there is also a delightful surprise at the end for Bresson fans which I will not ruin here.
Even though I am region locked to the US Region 1 (I have to watch this on my PC), I purchased this DVD instead because I was so excited to see it so well presented by AE. It's slighlty cheaper than our DVD on Amazon.com as well (even with the exchange rate), and has an excellent bonus feature. Well worth the price and bravo to Artificial Eye for doing such a fine job!
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
If you have any serious interest in cinema then this is simply essential. Often imitated, universally admired, Bresson dismissed every accepted rule and convention and simply built his own. From the very first composing of the credits you know you are in the hands of a master. Bresson decides to give you what you need - and nothing more. No music (except the sparest use of glorious Mozart when he wants the film to rise to a different level of significance) - the only soundtrack being just the essential sounds to punctuate the action. No overhead tracking shots, no vistas - just a focus on only the action you need to see and follow - detail detail detail.. The simplest of dialogue, the most direct 'acting'. This is the antithesis of Hollywood bombast - it's like an antidote. And yet the simplicity carries more impact, it has more meaning, and ultimately is genuinely transendental in what it delivers. Faith. Absolute Belief. Determination against all odds. Trust in others and friendship and the best of human nature. It is ultimately religiously uplifting - without addressing this directly at all. Want to show an escape from a moving car? - we just need a speedo, hand flirting with a door handle, glimpse through the windows and a revving engine. Total focus that delivers total intensity. The simplicity of the ending is breathtaking and so so right. Astonishing.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
"The wind bloweth where it listeth." God will only save us if we give him a hand, thus says the Resistance fighter who has been condemned to death. He has luck on his side and the fates for the narrowest of margins. He has other prisoners aware he is about to make a break and they both urge him to go or to take caution. Un Condamne a mort s'est echappe, is the film as art form reduced to its purest elements, based as it is on the true story of Andre Devigny,who was imprisoned and sentenced to death by the Nazis during the 2nd World War.Imprisonned in a spare cell at the Lyons Fortress of Montluc he watches everything closely and plans meticulously, making pencil notes and obtaining spoons to act as chisels and clothing and mattress material to make ropes, and bending metal from his light surround into hooks. He taps on his cell wall to communicate with a neighbouring prisoner who thinks he hasn't a hope but gives his blessing. He also has found a contact in the prison yard to get letters out to his family.
Fontaine(Leterrier), impassive and inscrutable , has total command of the 3 by 2 metre space he inhabits, with the eyes of a vigilant bird and we get an image of his hands chipping, banging, bending,platting. Our vision is limited to what he can see-a small part of the prison yard, the outer corridor and downstairs in the yard when the men empty their pots and have a wash in the communal wash-house daily. We also only hear what he hears, the approaching foot-steps or the noises of men being taken from their cell to their execution in the yard.Bursts of machine-gun fire.Orsini, in the cell opposite escapes too early and is soon executed.The innate hope and humanity of the prisoners surfaces as they struggle for meaning beyond their captivity. This is a thrilling tale of courage and faith transcending physical limits through iron purpose and sensitivity soft as a feather and a final liberation with a moving denouement to the accompaninment of Mozart's sublime Mass in C Minor.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Paul Schrader's description of Bresson's films as, put simply, a transcendental experience is clearly displayed in a Man Escaped. For me the monotone narration, austere environment and Mozart's music enhances the mood of a film about a captured French resistance fighter who is facing death at any moment but, incredibly, with enough physical and mental endurance to seek freedom. Bresson offers the viewer meticulous detail as our hero, for instance, scratches away at the door of his cell or weaves together sheets and clothing for rope. The tension created by the footsteps of guards, the ambiguous intentions of other prisoners or the ever present threat of the firing squad is very real and I find it remarkable that this linear, relatively "undramatic" film can conjure up such intense feelings. Awesome.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 February 2009
This 1956 film demonstrates that a small budget doesn't mean a bad film. It clearly deserved to win the twin awards: "Best Director, Cannes Film Festival," and "Best Film of the Year" from the French Film Academy.
The film describes what it was like to be a political prisoner of the Germans in Paris during WWII. In their efforts to keep down resistance, both the guilty and innocent were arrested, convicted and executed. This is the story of one of those prisoners and his meticulous efforts to find a way to escape, supported and encouraged by his fellow prisoners.
My only complaint is that the horrors of this time were muted by the director. Beatings and executions take place off camera and Germans appear only fleetingly. Perhaps that was because in 1956 the terrors of the Nazi occupation was too recent to dwell on.
Michael W. Perry, editor of Dachau Liberated : The Official Report
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 June 2014
Robert Bresson is probably the most revered film director the world has ever seen and for me alongside Andrei Tarkovsky he is simply the best. He only made 13 feature films spread over some 40 years and each one conveys a vision of the world unique to its creator. Iconoclastic to the extreme, he made films which are distinctly audience non-friendly. A film for him was never a piece of entertainment, never a canvas to divert audiences from everyday realities, never a commercial endeavor in which investors could confidently give their money and expect returns. A film for him was a brutally honest work of art, an article of faith, a statement of the deepest metaphysics that underpin the human condition. He didn't care whether audiences liked his work or not. He arrogantly and unequivocally stuck to his guns, absolutely refusing to compromise his vision in any way at all, confident that he was right in everything he said and did even down to despising the films of everyone except his own. It took guts, a huge ego and incredible personal sacrifice to accomplish what he did, but the fact is now the great man is no longer with us we can look back at 13 extraordinary works of art which bewilder and perplex, shock and depress, disgust and repel, and yet which also inspire and illuminate, move and awe, excite and exult. Put simply Bresson takes us to places and shows us things which nobody else does. The average Bresson work (one hesitates to call one a mere film) runs an average of 90 minutes, but those 90 minutes are at once so exhausting and so exhilarating that one emerges from the viewing experience drained, beaten, worn out, but also enlightened and uplifted in the most profound way.
I don't propose here to go into Bresson's world in depth. For that I recommend people new to and curious about the director to read Alan Pavelin's excellent short survey in the Great Directors section of the Senses of Cinema web site and explore the other articles there about him. Then if you really want to jump in at the deep end Bresson's 1975 book, Notes sur le cinématographe (Notes on the Cinematographer) is mandatory reading. For now before I get onto the film under review I briefly want to draw attention to four things which viewers might find helpful in defining the world according to Bresson:
1. Catholicism. Bresson was born and raised a French catholic. He later described himself as `a Christian atheist', but there's no doubting the strong influence of predestinarian Jansenism across all of his work. Time and again Bresson protagonists simply function in any given narrative to fulfill whatever has been pre-destined for them to fulfill. They have no free will of their own and usually the film charts a journey which becomes a metaphorical search for spiritual grace. Conventional character psychology has no place in a Bresson work - it doesn't matter what happens between life and death, the result will be the same - such is the nature of pre-destination. We are taken on this journey together with any given protagonist and are made to feel as they do as they approach salvation.
2. Prison. Bresson was a member of the French resistance and was imprisoned by the Nazis as a POW during World War II. He learned at first hand how it feels to go without, the mental strength it takes to survive difficult circumstances. Prisons appear at some point in most of his films and two (A Man Escaped  and The Trial of Joan of Arc ) take place completely behind bars. The universal metaphysical yearning for freedom, for personal betterment, for spiritual rejuvenation, for release from one's constraints whether they be social, marital, material or of another kind, becomes probably the strongest theme in any given Bresson film.
3. Painting. Before taking to film-making Bresson was a painter and these years informed completely the austere mise-en-scène that would become uniquely his own from Les Anges du Péché [Angels of Sin] (1943) through to L'argent [Money] (1983). As Pavelin has said painting a picture is all about deciding what to include in the frame whereas making a film is all about deciding what to exclude. Bresson excludes everything except what is absolutely essential for any given shot even to the extent of excluding narrative information through ellipsis and use of off-camera sound which constantly makes the audience work hard to get at the meaning. Framing in a Bresson film may seem perverse. Often we see shots of hands and feet disconnected from the bodies to which they are attached and the framing of empty spaces into which characters walk (usually head bowed) is a Bresson trademark. Everything is spare, stark, gray and determinedly austere. Watch and listen carefully because every image is packed with so much detail. Events may pass by completely unawares if you are not paying attention. The painterly austere Bresson aesthetic distances us, forcing us to work hard to interact with the narrative in a way other directors simply do not do.
4. Models. Connected to his austere visual aesthetic is the way Bresson eschews professional actors, employing amateurs who he termed `models'. He distrusted trained actors who brought with them baggage from prior experiences which would inhibit the naturalness that he was after. Not only does he use amateurs, but he has all of them behave (they never `act') in the same way, talking quickly in a monotone, expression blank and unsmiling. His models are manipulated by their puppet master down to the last detail - one step here three steps there. No acting is involved, and yet his films are full of quite extraordinary performances. The models are a natural extension of the style which Bresson is so concerned should address the ideas beneath the narrative rather than the narrative itself with its irrelevant consequent traditional character development omitted completely. `Acting' disappears along with any kind of associated melodrama in a Bresson film.
All of these themes are most admirably displayed in Bresson's 1956 prison escape film Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut (A Man Escaped or: The Wind Bloweth Where it Listeth). This is the film I would suggest people new to the director should see first. The narrative is simple, the story obviously uplifting and uniquely approachable in Bresson's work for having a happy ending. The film is a true story based on the memoirs of André Devigny (named Fontaine and played by François Leterrier) which chart his escape from Montluc Prison, Lyon in 1943 during the Nazi occupation. Imprisoned for his involvement with the resistance movement, Fontaine at first enters the prison bleeding and seemingly near the end. The next 98 minutes chart in minute detail his recovery and then his escape. The narrative structure is based on a first person voice-over and Fontaine is consequently in every scene. The only time we see other prisoners or the German guards is when he comes into contact with them which he does rarely. The bulk of the film takes place inside his cell where he first sets about breaking through his door and then onto the roof and then over the walls to reach freedom. The film is the essence of simplicity and would seem dull in any other hands. In the hands of Bresson however the journey becomes one of the most uplifting and awe-inspiring in the whole of cinema. How does he do it?
The film's very title gives away Bresson's Jansenist aesthetic. `A Man Escaped' bluntly states what will happen in the course of the film and an inscription shown after the credits tells us that Fontaine's story will be related in the simplest terms with no embellishment. So traditional notions of dramatic suspense are discarded from the start - we not only know the ending, but we also know the treatment will be prosaic. Fontaine's future has been predestined, but as the film's biblical subtitle (The Wind Bloweth Where it Listeth [John 3:8]) makes clear it is up to him to make his own luck and win freedom through his own endeavor. The film is therefore a demonstration of how one man makes a bid for liberty but is helped/hindered by the guiding hand of `fate' that hovers over him throughout and that finally delivers him to his goal. The film becomes a strongly stated article of faith on the part of Fontaine, and because we see everything through his eyes through the first person narration, watching him becomes an article of faith for us as well whatever our religious persuasion may be.
The film's visual treatment is remarkably concentrated throughout. The very first sequence again echoes predestination. Fontaine is sitting in the back of a car being driven to prison. Two prisoners next to him are cuffed but he is free so he waits for the car to stop to open the door and escape. The camera stares closely at his hand hovering over the door handle in expectation. We hear street noises and the sound of the engine, the only indications of the car's movement. Bresson gives us the odd glimpse of the street, first a cart pulls out in front of the car. Will it stop? No, it simply drives around. Then a train crosses in front and finally the car has to stop. Fontaine seizes his chance and exits the car. Normally the film would follow our hero and we would see his recapture. Not so Bresson. Instead the camera rests on the empty seat Fontaine has just vacated waiting for his return. With no other gesture needed we know he is destined to failure and to a return which he duly fulfills. Arriving at the prison Fontaine is taken to a room and beaten with clubs. The camera points down. We see the bottom of a door open, clubs resting against the wall and Fontaine's body dragged past. The door closes, the camera fades and we see him (probably at least an hour later) dragged bloodied and bruised into a cell. We don't need to see him being beaten. The visual treatment intimates the shock much more effectively than any explicitly visual violence ever could. In this cryptic manner Bresson articulates the pitch black darkness from which Fontaine endeavors to escape throughout the rest of the film.
One could go through the film scene by scene, shot by shot and underline all the ways Bresson deploys his extraordinary visual system and equally stunning use of off-screen sound. Such a David Bordwell-type approach has its merits I suppose, but I think it essential in a short review to emphasize just two things for the film's powerful message to be understood. The first is the way human contact and the spread of brotherly love not only helps Fontaine, but also how Fontaine helps those around him in return. Note the way his efforts at contacting his neighbor go unanswered at first - efforts which later we learn stopped the man from committing suicide. The old man Blanchet (Maurice Beerblock) visually regains his life force by hearing and watching Fontaine go about his escape. Finally he even donates a blanket to help Fontaine and wishes him luck. Then there is the character of Orsini (Jacques Ertaud) who is inspired to attempt a similar escape, the priest (Roland Monod) who inspires hope and faith in everyone around him and then most importantly the boy Jost (Charles Leclainche) who Fontaine is forced into taking with him on his escape and without whom he would have failed to scale the final wall. Fate works in mysterious ways indeed and Bresson's film is extraordinary in the way it quietly but very precisely depicts the escape as a spiritual search for salvation which succeeds through taking strength from one's fellow man and also by giving strength in return. Fontaine's escape is the beacon of light which gives hope to everybody, to his fellow inmates, but especially to us the audience. We are fed a succession of dreary and ugly scenes of prison life which concentrate completely on the promise of final emancipation which is offered up as perhaps the sole most important meaning of life.
Secondly, we should pay attention to the way Fontaine turns everything around him into things which he can use for effecting his escape. There is an important scene where the priest says he has found a bible which gives him spiritual fortitude. Behind the bible lies a spoon sitting on a ledge which Fontaine informs us in voice-over is the thing that gives him his spiritual fortitude. By connection all the things that he uses to effect his escape - the spoons, the wires in his mattress, clothes and blankets cut up to make ropes, the room lantern frame bent into hooks - are religious artifacts which serve to highlight those qualities needed by all men to survive whether they are in prison or not. Watching him fashion his escape we recognize the qualities of attention, concentration, hard work, practicality, skill, patience, perseverance and above all else - faith and the conviction that success will be won. All of these are essential life qualities which he inspires in the other prisoners around him and in us the audience. It's no exaggeration to say that watching Fontaine in this film is a hypnotic experience. You simply cannot take your eyes away for fear of missing something and the obsessive focus on him at the expense of everything else is what gives this life lesson of a film its extraordinary metaphysical power.
One last thing that should be mentioned is Bresson's astounding mastery of sound, both on and off-screen. There is the occasional burst of Mozart (the Kyrie from the Mass in C minor, K.427) which is extraordinarily effective (especially at the end) because it punctuates long periods of near silence where the only sounds are distant bell chimes and street car clanging - the quiet throb of a city going about its daily life beyond the prison walls. Once on the roof we encounter an extraordinary series of night sounds, most prominently coming from the nearby railway station, then the sounds of a bicycle being ridden by a guard and the twangy electronic sound of a wire caught inadvertently by one of Fontaine's hooks. This prepares the way for the truly exultant final moment of release - a brief embrace with his escape partner Jost and a quick walk across the nearest bridge as the Mozart once again swells on the soundtrack. It's a deceptively simply release of all the pent up tension of watching a man working a miracle in exacting slow motion over the duration of the film. I watched it in a crowded cinema with a rapt audience and the sense of emotional release was palpable as everyone clearly shared in the man's epiphany. Absolutely stunning, there is no other ending in cinema like it - a journey from deepest darkness into the most radiant light. Perfection.
This Artificial Eye disc is very good quality. The visuals (aspect ratio 4.3 - 1.33:1) are very sharp and clear while the Digital Dolby mono soundtrack is excellent for the period. The only extra offered is a 45 minute Dutch documentary made by Leo de Boer and Jurriën Rood entitled 'Road to Bresson'. It offers interviews with Louis Malle, Andrei Tarkovsky, Paul Schrader and the great man himself. It was made at the time L'argent won the Cannes Palmes d'Or, a prize shared with Tarkovsky's Nostalghia and we get to see both directors receiving their awards on stage. It's interesting, but not particularly revealing about Bresson. The disc really needs a scholarly commentary. But I am not complaining. This is an excellent release of a truly unmissable film.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"A Man Escaped," (1956). This is a classic of French cinema, a dramatic war story of just 100 minutes. In it, French director Robert Bresson - using a deceptively successful minimalist approach -- brings high drama to the screen. Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar ,Diary Of A Country Priest) is able to tell this true story of Andre Devigny, a French prisoner, and his single-minded determination to escape from a Nazi prison cell in occupied France during World War II, with great economy. To tell his tale of the Resistance, Bresson, who was awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for the film, used amateur actors and little dialogue or music, while keeping his camera almost constantly focused on the prisoner's desperate bid for freedom. The director does use snatches of Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor, No.16 (K.427) -, the Kyrie, in a few scenes at the picture's beginning.
To ratchet up the suspense, on the same day that Devigny is condemned to death, he is given a new young cellmate. Must he kill the young man? Or, as he believes the escape will be easier done by two than by one, should the Resistance leader risk revealing his plans to someone who may be a Gestapo informer?
Bresson, who insisted on as much authenticity as he could get, based his screenplay on a memoir by Devigny. The former prisoner also served as advisor on the film, which was shot in the same Montluc prison in which Devigny had been held, in the vicinity of Lyon, where both Resistance and Gestapo were extremely active during the Occupation. Devigny even loaned Bresson, who had himself been a prisoner of war during WWII, the ropes and hooks he had used in his escape.
In reading about this movie, I expected to dislike it. Black and white, amateur actors, not even any music, virtually the entire picture filmed in a jailhouse. And then there's the title: if you know the prisoner escaped, how suspenseful can the film be? It was tremendously suspenseful, could barely tear my eyes away from it. Tremendously exciting. I'm sure that in film schools all over the globe, students are dissecting this motion picture, trying to figure out how it works. This, I am not qualified to do. All I can say is, I recently saw a Batman movie, with its computer generated effects. A MAN ESCAPED was more exciting.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Man Escaped is one of those films that seems much better the film seems each time you see it. Bresson makes a strange choice in omitting the opening chapter of the memoir the film is based on which deals with the hero's curiously distant emotional response to killing a collaborator, which does throw some light on the sudden apathy and inertia that paralyses him once he is on the brink of making his much-delayed escape, but in other respects it's a perfectly contained and executed movie. The performances are very strong and the Christian allegory - that we want redemption but instinctively back away from it - is not overstrained: it's there if you want to see it but never at the cost of turning the movie into a sermon.
Unfortunately, New Yorker's source material for their Region 1 NTSC DVD is not especially good, but considering how bad most 35mm prints that go round the revival circuit are, it may well be a case of making the best of what material was available to them.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Man Escaped is a very poised, focused statement from Bresson showing a Resistance fighter in France in 1943, who slowly acquires the means to escape from prison. It is a marvellous testament to the human spirit, yet the images are among his most spare. There is not even the presence of nature you find in some of his other works, or the variety of locations. The close-ups are mainly of prison surfaces - walls, the wooden cell door he slowly dismantles using a tablespoon, bars, light and shadow, and faces. This last element becomes all the more expressive for being set against the blank, inhuman quality of these other components. The lead, Francois Leterrier, has a beautiful face that is nevertheless lacking in anything like star quality. He has a haunted, essentially gentle look, but also with a determination, a combative aspect the character needs. The young man he escapes with, who actually enables it to happen, has a rather dubious record as a collaborator, so the film works as a study of trust, or faith at all levels (there are two priests also), while being morally unfathomable. It creates considerable tension, but as always, the biggest tension is between the spiritual concerns of the director and the resolutely concrete attention to physical objects and their properties. The boy, Jost, is like something out of Genet, and the communication by banging on cell walls, as well as the escape by two characters, seem like parallels to Genet's only film, Un chant d'amour, made six years earlier in 1950. Yet these two artists could hardly be further apart ... The rooftop scene also recalls Vigo's Zéro de Conduite. It is amazing the way such simple images can create such widely differing resonances, showing that great artists create an aura around the physical world that reforges its meaning for us.