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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 25 March 2012
No histrionics - even the small acts of violence seem slow-motion or caressed 'coshing'. It is largely an internal narrative of the protagonist and is still and quiet throughout with listening, gentle tapping on walls, and whispers and glances as befits the cruel prison environment. It is unmistakeable Bresson with moments of Mozart the only 'noise' coming as aural relief or bursts of hope. Undoubtedly brilliant.
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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 February 2013
This 1956 film by Robert Bresson is based on the real-life story of French resistance fighter André Devigny who was imprisoned in Lyon by the Nazis during WW2, and would also no doubt have been informed by Bresson's own war-time experience of incarceration at the hands of the Nazis. On the face of it, it would also appear to be obvious why Bresson should have chosen such a subject for his film, since its subject matter of solitary incarceration with ample room for personal cogitation and reflection is perfectly suited to Bresson's minimalist style of cinema. Indeed, this is one (of many) reason(s), why Un Condamné à Mort S'est Échappé is such an effective portrayal of a man's struggle with his inner self, whilst at the same time providing a brilliantly fascinating, gripping and tense drama.

As was Bresson's trademark, he once again cast novice actors for the film and again secured a remarkably assured, if characteristically restrained, performance from François Letterier as Lieutenant Fontaine, who has been jailed (and later sentenced to death) in a Lyon fortress for espionage. Indeed, whilst Bresson's film calls for relatively little (and minimalist) acting per se, Fontaine's softly spoken and solemn voiceover narration is brilliantly effective in conveying the prisoner's alternating moods of fatalistic despair and quiet determination to secure his freedom. Similarly, Bresson creates a brooding atmosphere of tension as Fontaine's ingenious plans for escape are constantly under threat of discovery by his captors (as befalls Fontaine's co-conspirator, who is summarily shot). Regular Bresson cinematographer, L H Burel's austere black and white prison shots are also particularly effective as we witness Fontaine's laborious attempts to dismantle his wooden door with a spoon and then, using a mix of wire bed lattice, blankets and metal frame, constructs the tools to enable him to scale the prison walls.

In addition to Letterier's performance, Maurice Beerblock is good as Fontaine's surly (and initially silent) cell neighbour Blanchet, whose reticence to collaborate is eventually overcome by Fontaine's enthusiasm for escape, whilst Roland Monod's sceptical priest Deleyris allows Bresson to cast doubt on the possibility of divine intervention, as, in response to the priest's entreaty to trust in God, Fontaine responds, 'He'll only save us if we give him a hand'. Probably the other most notable acting turn is delivered by Charles Le Clainche as young French soldier François Gost, whose collaboration with the Nazis has backfired on him, and who Fontaine initially suspects of being a stool pigeon, before realising he has no choice but to enlist his new cell-mate in his escape attempt.

Of course, Bresson's film title does rather give away the ending, but this does not (for me) detract from the nail-biting and exhilarating final escape sequence, at its conclusion accompanied by the soaring choral music of Mozart's Mass in C Minor (which has provided a superbly atmospheric, if sporadic, soundtrack throughout the film).
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on 9 July 2009
This 1955 movie was made with non-professional actors on a low budget. It is the opposite to what was being churned out in Hollywood at the time (e.g. Giant with James Dean cost millions to make).But I'm no cinematic historian (or at best, I'm not a good cinematic historian), so I'll leave the historical commentary to the film scholars of the world. All I can say is that A Man Escaped has not been ravaged by the passage of time. It remains as intriguing and exciting a film as it was back in the mid-'50s. It certainly beats the pants off of many "dramas" released today apart from the great Shawshank Redemption which is similar to A Man Escaped storyline wise..

(my friends call me Beany)
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on 3 May 2011
There have been many films down the years focusing on escaping from prison. Whether it be the wrongly imprisoned facing the injustice of the prison system (The Shawshank Redemption), scouting a group of misfit characters $'to forge a masterplan to be carried out on a grand scale (The Great Escape), or the simply plain ridiculous (Escape To Victory), director's have seemingly always had a fascination with escape. Perhaps it's a mixture of the desperation and excitement of breaking free and rebelling against a suppressive system. Of all the prison movies I've seen, none have been as focused, thrilling, or as involving as Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped.

It follows French resistance fighter Fontaine (Francois Letterier) as he is being exported to Nazi prison Fort Montluc during WWII. He instantly seizes a chance to escape on his way but is quickly re-captured and thrown back in the car. We see from the off that Fontaine is an opportunist, and will do everything in his power to battle against his situation. Upon arriving at Montluc, Fontaine quickly begins to devise his plan of escape by obtaining a safety pin which he uses to unlock his handcuffs, but upon being moved to a higher cell his handcuffs are removed anyway. He steals a spoon from the cafeteria, which he uses to slowly chip away a his cell door, filing and scratching the sides of the panels until it can be completely removed, leaving him able to roam the halls at night and plan his escape further.

His plan is thrown into disarray with the arrival of young soldier Francois (Charles Le Clainche) who bears the uniforms of both the French and German army. Fontaine must decide whether to trust this possibly spy and take him on his escape, or to kill him. Upon Francois' arrival, Fontaine also learns that his activities working for the French resistance have earned him the death sentence, so must quickly escape or face his fate. The film is based on the memoirs of Andre Devigny and his experiences imprisoned by the Nazis.

Bresson's genius shines through in this film with his ability to conjure nail-biting tension in the tiniest of things. Fontaine spends most of his time squatted in front of his cell door, filing down the door panels with his blunt spoon, and it's these scenes where you feel the excitement of Fontaine's slow progression, and the elation of the eventual success. The focus stays on Fontaine, as he conspires with his fellow inmates and slowly executes his plan. We see little of the Nazis and how they treat the inmates, and we don't need to, we know they were quite the bastards and weren't very nice. The fear of being at their will is written on Fontaine's face, and it's much more powerful for that.

This is a prison escape movie carried out with pinpoint precision by a masterful director. This is the first Bresson I've seen and I'll be seeking out many more when I get the chance. This is New Wave mixed with character study mixed with the intensity of a thriller. I have only experienced a similar feeling with Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages Of Fear. The prison genre will most likely forever be eclipsed by The Shawshank Redemption, but this film deserves to equally regarded.

[...]
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on 21 December 2011
Read the other reviews. I will just say I have bought no less than 5 copies to give as presents and no one has had anything negative to say on any level.
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on 1 May 2012
Robert Bresson, was a master film maker... And this film,
is a masterpiece... It is so simple, yet, so complex...
based on a true story, of a French resistance fighter,
in a Nazi prison, planning an escape...

I can't praise this film enough. I saw it in a cinema once,
and at the end, I turned to see a young woman crying behind me...
at which point I said to her... BRILLIANT...
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on 14 January 2007
[...] The first time I watched this film, I must say I was slightly disappointed but maybe that was due to its preceding reputation. However, having seen it again a few years later, I have to admire it as a study of faith which I think the last reviewer neglected. Fontaine maintains belief in his escape unlike the old man Blanchet (a figure of resigned despair)or Orsini, who, despite being denounced by his own wife, forgives her and whose failed escape (sacrifice, though the Christ-like analogies might be pushing it) helps Fontaine in his plan. It's simply more than an escape film even if the ending is telegraphed. In fact, I would say that Bresson's great accomplishment is in making us actually doubt whether Fontaine's scheme will succeed and how changes to his plan - the arrival of another cellmate, Jost - actually benefit his escape plan rather than hinder it. A final word on Jost: he represents redemption, a Lucien Lacombe type figure, who is able to join and assist Fontaine in his plans.
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on 12 September 2015
Super film. I had no idea just how good this film would be before hand. But its absolutely gripping from the beginning to the end. There are other good reviews that will tell you all about the film but it is one I will be watching again. I love Robert Bresson,s films and this one doesn't disappoint. If you haven't seen it then I would certainly recommend it.
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on 19 January 2005
Many have discovered this film and likened it to an emotional journey that manages to entrap the audience with a beautiful depiction of humanity. Though, to an extent, this is true, I think there is much more to the picture than that. I mean, this certainly isn't the Shawshank Redemption! No, this is a very clinical film, structured and calculated so that every shot and every cut gets a response out of the viewer. In a way, it's technique of manipulation isn't that far removed from Hollywood... though Bresson has little interest in invoking mawkish sentiment or bringing the violins in for that all important Oscar clip. Instead, his goal is to put the audience right into the story, so that every day seems to unfold in real time and we can really feel the depression, claustrophobia and ever-decreasing sense of hope swell within our stomachs. Now, some might see this as dull or depressing, but far from it. Bresson is a poet and his films are always about ultimate transcendence. He is aware, that by making the audience share the pain and alienation of the characters, they will ultimately share their elation come those closing scenes.
Therefore, the art here is in submerging ourselves in the notion of escape and the foreshadowing of the events that make the eventual escape possible, so that the act of watching the film becomes a process similar to following a book, with the constant fades to black acting as chapter points, which gives the film an episodic quality that removes the notion of time from the protagonist's mind and in turn, removes it from ours. Bresson pushes this with his use of point of view camera perspectives, isolated framing & punchy editing in moments of crisis so that we become the character and observe the prison and pick out the clues that will possibly aid our escape... which is, of course, an interesting experiment in the limitations of film and the duality that can be created between the picture and the audience. However, here lies the problem. The lack of tension created by the afore-knowledge that the protagonist will in fact escape (and I'm not spoiling anything here, as it's stated in the title) becomes a great hindrance when Bresson's experiments begin to lag, making it harder for us to care about the character as the film reaches the halfway mark.
I do admire the filmmaker for taking this risk, giving us a story that is more about 'WHY?' as opposed to 'How?' but ultimately the experiment doesn't quite pay off. This doesn't necessarily mean that the film is without merit though, as the first hour of the film manages to involve us in the intricate and subtle characteristics of the prison and the detainees that dwell there, whilst the director's use of cinematography, montage, editing, music and design are all great and add a definite character to what could have been a very clichéd and moralising film. The drop in narrative interest is enough to demote the film in terms of star-rating, but this is still certainly worth checking out, offering us, as it does, a strong concept based on fact, some impeccable and unglamorous performances that, if it were not for Bresson's use of mise-en-scene, might have led us to believe we were watching a documentary and of course, that abovementioned moment of transcendence during the final scenes. A Man Escaped is an interesting film that still has a relevance to it almost 50 years after it was first produced and, although it is far from Bresson's greatest work, it does show the filmmaker experimenting with ideas and techniques that would go towards creating and elevating his later classics.
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