Thursday, April 4, 2013

"A Man Escaped or: The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth," Robert Bresson

I hadn't seen an old movie in a while.  I got the hankering while browsing through  I signed up again for during one of there "free week" promotions.  I'll probably cancel it again because I already have Netflix and I just don't need to spend another $8 a month.  With commercials.

But does have a great selection of old and foreign films.  Much better than Netflix.

A Man Escaped is a Robert Bresson film, based on the memoirs of AndrĂ© Devigny, who had been held in a Nazi prison in Paris during the war.

Fontaine, a member of the French resistance, has been captured by the Nazi police and is being led to prison.  In the opening sequence, he tries to escape by jumping out of the police car, but he is immediately apprehended.  At the jail, he is beaten and he assures the warden that he wont try again to escape.  For the rest of the movie, we observe his slow, steady, methodical quest towards escape. Locked in his cell for the entire day except a short break for washing, Fontaine has very little opportunity.  But he has time and patience.

We follow his preparations -- stealing a spoon to carve away the tenons holding in the slats of the cell door, a process that takes weeks.  Fashioning rope from blankets and mattress covers.  Using a metal frame for grappling hooks.  All painstakingly precise and done without alerting the guards.

The tone of the movie is wonderfully calming, despite the slowly building suspense and Fontaine's progress turns from an escape from boredom to a race against his inevitable sentence of death.  There is very little dialog.  Instead, just the calming narration of Fontaine himself, and short quick sentences spoke in passing to his fellow prisoners.

Ultimately, Fontaine learns that he can no longer wait -- he is about to be sentenced from his crime of blowing up a bridge. But when he returns to his cell, he finds that he has been given a cell-mate -- the young Jost.  Unsure of whether Jost is another prisoner or a planted stool-pigeon, Fontaine has to make a decision to kill Jost or force him to join the escape.