A Man Escaped – The Criterion Collection #650 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 27, 2013 by Dennis Amith
“A Man Escaped” is a film that showcases Robert Bresson’s wonderful direction but it’s also a Blu-ray release and its special features that Robert Bresson fans and cineaste will surely enjoy for it. These are the type of Criterion Collection releases I love…great film and special features that thoroughly examines the work of the filmmaker. “A Man Escaped” is highly recommended!
Image are courtesy of © 2013 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: A Man Escaped – The Criterion Collection #650
YEAR OF FILM: 1956
DURATION: 101 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, French Monaural with English Subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: March 26, 2013
Directed by Robert Bresson
Scenario and Dialogue by Robert Bresson
Memoir by Andre Devigny
Producer: Alain Poire, Jean Thuillier
Cinematography by Leonce-Henri Burel
Edited by Raymond Lamy
Production Design by Pierre Charbonnier
Art Direction by Pierre Carbonnier
Francois Leterrier as Le Lieutenant Fontaine
Charles Le Clainche as Francois Jost
Maruice Beerblock as Blanchet
Roland Monod as Le pasteur Deleyris
Jacques Ertaud as Orsini
Jean Paul Delhumeau as Hebrard
Roger Treherne as Terry
With the simplest of concepts and sparest of techniques, Robert Bresson (Au hasard Balthazar) made one of the most suspenseful jailbreak films of all time in A Man Escaped. Based on the memoirs of an imprisoned French resistance leader, this unbelievably taut and methodical marvel follows the fictional Fontaine’s single-minded pursuit of freedom, detailing the planning and carrying out of his escape with gripping precision. But Bresson’s film is not merely process-minded—it’s a work of intense spirituality and humanity.
Robert Bresson, a legendary French filmmaker known for cinematic maserpieces such as “Pickpocket”, “Diary of a Country Priest” and his most popular film “Au Hasard Balthazar”.
But Bresson was also known for his film “A Man Escaped” (“Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut”), which was based on the memoirs of Andre Devigny, a prisoner of war that was held at Fort Montluc by the Nazi’s during World War II and escaped on his day of execution.
The film would earn Bresson a “Best Director” award at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival but also a Palme d’Or nomination.
And now “A Man Escaped” will be released by The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray and DVD on March 2013.
“A Man Escaped” begins with a camera shot at a plaque commemorating the 7,000 men who died at the hands of the Nazi’s at Montluc prison.
We are introduced to Fontaine (portrayed by Francois Leterrier), a member of the French Resistance who tries to escape the prison via car. The Nazi’s capture him during a vehicle stop and Fontaine is punished and beaten for trying to escape.
While incarcerated, Fontaine is able to communicate with a person next door via morse code. Meanwhile, using string and a sack, he is able to speak and get items to three Frenchman who are exercising near his prison cell. The men help Fontaine deliver messages outside of the cell but also bring him items he can use.
As Fontaine is moved into cell 107 on the top floor of the prison, he begins to inspect his cell and realizes that the boards are made of low quality wood. With the spoon that he uses to eat, he begins to use the spoon to chip away at the wood and is able to remove the boards from the prison cell door and able to roam around the hallway where he can meet with other prisoners.
But while incarcerated, each day we can hear the Nazi’s kill someone from the prison and it all comes down to one’s usefulness at the prison. We are also introduced to other prisoners such as Orsini (portrayed by Jacques Ertaud), who also tries to attempt an escape from prison but because his rope has no hooks, he is caught, punished and beaten by the Nazis.
But despite the fate of those who try to escape, the information they pass in hopes for someone to escape the prison becomes important.
Fontaine knows he must thoroughly plan his escape from Montluc prison but he is placed with a young man. But can this young man be trusted or is he working for the Nazi’s?
“A Man Escaped” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio). The film features wonderful contrast and is well-detailed. Whites and grays are well-contrast, black levels are also much better. I saw no damage or major flickering, banding, if anything, the film looks magnificent on Blu-ray!
According to the Criterion Collection, this high-definition digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35 mm camera negative at Eclaire Laboratories in Epinay-sur-Seine, France. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image System’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“A Man Escaped” is presented in French LPCM 1.0. Dialogue is clear and subtitles are easy to read. I detected no pops, crackles or terrible hiss during my viewing of the film.
According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was remaster at 24-bit from a sound negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
“A Man Escaped – The Criterion Collection #650” comes with the following special features:
- Bresson Without a Trace – (1:07:31) From a 1965 television program of “Cineastes de notre temps” in which the Bresson gives his first on-camera interview. (Note: Do not watch this unless you have seen his previous films as the featurette does contain spoilers.)
- The Road to Bresson – (56:22) A 1984 documentary featuring interviews with filmmakers Louis Malle, Paul schrader and Andrei Tarkovsky. Featuring the filmmakers who also try to get an interview with Bresson who is promoting his film “L’Argent” at the Cannes Film Festival.
- The Essence of Forms – (45:56) A Documentary from 2010 win which collaborators and admirers of Bresson’s including actor Francois Leterrier and director Buruno Dumont, share their thoughts about the director and his work.
- Functions of Film Sound – (19:48) A visual essay on the use of sound in “A Man Escaped” by film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson.
- Trailers – (3:10) The theatrical trailer for “A Man Escaped”.
“A Man Escaped – The Criterion Collection #650” comes with an 20-page booklet with the following essay “Quintessential Bresson” by Tony Pipolo.
Robert Bresson, a legendary filmmaker who may have not made too many films within the last 40-years of his life, but each of his films are respected by filmmakers because of his constant search of getting the shot he needs.
A style that is not for patient producers, Bresson is known to have a seen redone and shot many dozens of times until he felt he got the shot he needed. As many filmmakers would say about Bresson’s style, he comes to a shot not knowing what he wants, but through repetition he eventually is in search for a shot that can be used.
He was a man that was dedicated in refining the precision of his own cinema style, stayed away from professional actors, abolishing psychology and suffice to say, those who understood his work, looked at Robert Bresson as a genius, while those who didn’t, find his work maddening or incomprehensible.
While Bresson’s style is not a style that not many people could read about or hear about, it is because he shunned the public life and wanted to be known for his work and not about him, as a person.
Known for his masterpiece “Au hasard Balthazar” and his work for”Les dames du bois de Boulogne”, “Diary of a Country Priest”, “Pickpocket” and”Mouchette”, the Criterion Collection gives viewers a chance to know Robert Bresson the filmmaker through the Blu-ray release of “A Man Escaped”.
While I recommend films such as “Au hasard Balthazar”, “Pickpocket” and “Diary of a Country Priest” to see the varying styles of Robert Bresson as a filmmaker, I must say that the release of “A Man Escaped” is important for the fact that it’s a film that shows his technique of simple concepts but techniques that are not easily replicated.
This is also a release that features Bressons’ first on-camera interview in “Bresson: Without a Trace” from 1965, the wonderful documentary “The Road to Bresson” in which legendary filmmakers such as Louis Malle, Andrei Tarkovsky, Paul Schrader and others discuss the brilliance of Bresson but also seeing those who just don’t get his work (as seen in the “L’argent”press conference at the Cannes Film Festival).
But Criterion Collection goes even further by including “The Essence of Forms” featuring those who have collaborated with Robert Bresson but also “Functions of Film Sound” in which film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson discuss Bresson’s work and the use of sound in “A Man Escaped” with efficacy.
But for his film “A Man Escaped”, description on paper or this review makes everything seem so simple. In fact, that is a word that is often used with Robert Bresson’s films is “simple”, but yet not easily replicated. Remember, Bresson is a filmmaker who will keep filming do-overs as many times as he wants to get the right shot. His films have gone over schedule, gone over budget and he has even bankrupt a few producers because he has a style that requires patience.
For this prison film, a French Resistance leader has been imprisoned by the Nazi’s and as life is futile for those incarcerated and just counting the days when they will be executed, the protagonist Fontaine is using his contacts throughout prison to find out details of what he can do to escape. Using anything that he has access to, may it be a spoon, blankets or shreddings to be used for rope, the film is exciting because you want to see this man escape. We know it’s based on a true story based on the memoir of Andre Devigny, but we must see things visually to fully understand.
Bresson captures Fontaine’s urgency, his sadness, his fears and displays it on camera. Bresson’s skill as a filmmaker is not to be obtrusive but also having the audience be part of the film through tension, suspense and emotion, not just visually but also through its carefully planned use of audio.
This is fantastic cinema and in his talented list within his oeuvre, while he has many films that can be labeled as a masterpiece, “A Man Escape” is wonderful, but it’s the overall experience through this Blu-ray release that makes it worthwhile for the cineaste.
The Criterion Collection’s presentation on Blu-ray is fantastic. Wonderful detail and contrast with picture and audio quality that looks unblemished and for a film that is nearly 60-years-old, fantastic. But of all the Robert Bresson releases from the Criterion Collection, it is this release that gives Bresson fans a chance to truly know the filmmaker.
Overall, “A Man Escaped” is a film that showcases Robert Bresson’s wonderful direction but it’s also a Blu-ray release and its special features that Robert Bresson fans and cineaste will surely enjoy for it. These are the type of Criterion Collection releases I love…great film and special features that thoroughly examines the work of the filmmaker. “A Man Escaped” is highly recommended!
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