Nov 8, 2010

14th Nov 2010; Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped

A Man Escaped
A film by Robert Bresson
Country : France
Runtime : 99 min
French with English subtitles
14th Nov 2010;5.45pm
Perks Mini Theater
Perks School

Bresson’s finest film, ranks as one of the great artistic
achievements in cinema. With this work, alone,
Bresson assured himself a place in the Pantheon.

- Film Sufi

A Man Escaped succeeds simply as the most tingly, tension-filled prison escape caper you'll ever see, but given that the prison in question is Nazi sadist Klaus Barbie's holding pen for condemned French resistance fighters, the story, which is based on true events, becomes a good vs. evil parable for the ages.

A Man Escaped opens with the indelible image of a pair of restless hands belonging to a French resistance officer named Lieutenant Fontaine (Francois Leterrier). His face is inscrutable and impassive, concealing his calculated attempt to flee from the escorted prison transport vehicle. Fontaine (François Leterrier) is just as single-minded in his purpose. In the prison he examines the grounds, taps messages to people in the next cell, and takes inventory of the raw materials in his cell.
In marked contrast to another famous French parable of inner and outward bondage and freedom — “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Bresson’s contemporary and friend, existentialist philospher Albert Camus — A Man Escaped is not content simply with the struggle toward the goal in itself. Fontaine must really escape, not merely make the attempt. Yet so objective and unsparing is Bresson’s direction that how the story actually ends remains uncertain until the very last shot. With his final frame, Bresson completes his sublime rebuttal of Camus’ contention that “the struggle itself” is enough to “fill a man’s heart,” even if the quest is futile.

A Man Escaped offers newcomers to Bresson perhaps the most accessible point of entry into the work of this brilliant, challenging, artist. It’s also the film in which Bresson’s mature style fully crystallized, and provided the filmmaker with perhaps the ideal subject for his singular stylistic preferences.
Robert Bresson's spare imagery and poetic realism depict the harsh existence of the prison camp without emotional manipulation or overt symbolism. The objective distance of retrospective narration divorces the precise and factual revelation of the story from the bias of perspective associated with the tension of his singular objective.

Among Bresson’s hallmarks is the juxtaposition of onscreen images with sounds from unseen, off-screen sources — a device that seems uniquely suited to the world of a narrow prison cell, where Fontaine has both a limited range of vision, and ample reason to attend to every boot scrape and unknown creak. And Bresson’s insistence on eliciting bare performances stripped of all emotion from novice actors may better suit a prisoner reduced to a singular purpose, his will wholly bent to his course of action, than any other protagonist in his body of work.

Robert Bresson

Robert Bresson’s 13 features over 40 years constitute arguably the most original and brilliant body of work over a long career from a film director in the history of cinema. He is the most idiosyncratic and uncompromising of all major filmmakers, in the sense that he always tried to create precisely what he wanted without surrendering to considerations of commerce, audience popularity, or people’s preconceptions of what cinema should be. And although it might be argued that his venture into colour from Une Femme douce (1969) onwards was probably against his better judgement, he shows mastery in its use.

Born in central France and educated in Paris, Bresson’s early ambition was to be a painter. He ventured into filmmaking with the short Les Affaires publiques (1934), a satire with nods to Clair and Vigo, which was rediscovered in the 1980s after being thought lost. After a year or so as a prisoner-of-war he was approached by a Paris priest with a proposal for a film about the Bethany order of nuns, which became Les Anges du péché (1943). His next feature was also made during the Occupation, and filmmaking had by then definitely supplanted painting. The confusion over his date of birth, symbolic perhaps of his reclusive nature, caused reviewers of his final filmL’Argent (1983) to marvel over how a man "in his late 70s" or alternatively "in his 80s" could show such youthful exuberance in his filmmaking.

Three formative influences in Bresson’s life undoubtedly mark his films: his Catholicism, which took the form of the predestinarian French strain known as Jansenism; his early years as a painter; and his experiences as a prisoner-of-war. These influences manifest themselves respectively in the recurrent themes of free-will versus determinism, in the extreme and austere precision with which he composes a shot, and in the frequent use of the prison motif (two films are located almost entirely inside prisons).

All Bresson’s features after the first have literary antecedents of one form or another, albeit updated. Two are from Dostoevsky (Une Femme douceand Quatre nuits), two from Bernanos (Journal and Mouchette), one from Tolstoy (L’Argent), one from Diderot (Les Dames), while Un Condamné and Le Procès are based on the written accounts of the true events. In addition Pickpocket is clearly influenced by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Balthazar has a similar premiss to the same author’s The Idiot. Lancelot du Lac is derived from Malory’s Arthurian legends, while Le Diable probablement (1977) was inspired by a newspaper report, as is stated at the start of the film.

A critic once wrote that Mizoguchi’s Sansho Dayu (1954) "is one of those films for whose sake the cinema exists". For many of us, the same can be said of the work of Robert Bresson.

(Source : Roger Ebert , Senses Of Cinema , Ozu's World Movie Reviews )

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