|François Leterrier in A Man Escaped|
François Jost: Charles LeClainche
Orsini: Jacques Ertaud
Blanchet: Maurice Beerbeck
Le Pasteur: Roland Monod
Director: Robert Bresson
Screenplay: Robert Bresson
Based on a memoir by André Devigny
Cinematography: Léonce-Henri Burel
Production design: Pierre Charbonnier
Film editing: Raymond Lamy
"I don't laugh," Fontaine says. No, he doesn't. In fact, throughout A Man Escaped, François Leterrier's expression rarely changes. But we always know the determination, the doubt, the calculation, the suspicion that's going through his head, thanks to Leterrier's use of his eyes.* But as Eisenstein taught us so long ago, montage is responsible for so much of what we feel and witness in movies, and we have to credit Raymond Lamy's editing as well as Léonce-Henri Burel's cinematography and of course Robert Bresson's direction for making A Man Escaped, based on the memoirs of André Devigny, a member of the French Resistance who was imprisoned by the Nazis, one of the most powerful excursions into a man's soul ever put on film. The word "minimalism" was not so much in use when A Man Escaped was made as it is today, but if ever a film was minimalist in avoiding conventional movie tricks like background music or flashy camerawork, it's this one. Bresson's restraint as a filmmaker serves to keep us in Fontaine's head, blotting out all but his grim determination to escape. When Fontaine murders the prison guard, we don't see it. We barely even hear it. We are watching a blank wall when it happens. But we hold our breaths while it does. Today we think of the prison-break movie 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 far better than those more famous and conventional movies.
*Leterrier went on to become a film director and writer. He made only one more film appearance as an actor, in the small role of André Malraux in Alain Resnais's Stavisky... (1974).