Thursday, October 8, 2015
A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956)
Yesterday I wrote about a film in which Bresson made almost no concessions to popular taste. Today it's a film that almost by definition calls for a compromise with popular taste: a prison-break movie. We think of the genre in terms of films like Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953), The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963), Escape From Alcatraz (Don Siegel, 1979), and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994), with stars like William Holden, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Tim Robbins, and Morgan Freeman, with action leavened by comic relief and made more tense by grotesque and sadistic guards, and underscored by mood music. What Bresson gives us is a film with no stars that concentrates largely on the face of the man planning his breakout and whose only music is the occasional underscoring with the "Kyrie" from Mozart's C-minor mass. And it works brilliantly -- far more so than those more famous and conventional movies. It's based on the memoirs of André Devigny, a member of the French Resistance who was imprisoned by the Nazis. In the film, Devigny is called Fontaine, and is played by François Leterrier, a then-unknown actor who later went on to become a film director himself. It's also a more accessible film than Diary of a Country Priest, though it, too, has moments of intellectual and spiritual questioning.