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A Man Escaped (1956)

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Now I could listen to Mozart's Great Mass in C minor (K. 427) all day long.

Obvious spoilers:

- Alright, until just now, I didn't realize that Bresson himself spent over a year as a prisoner of the Nazis.

- Before you even know it's him, you see Fontaine's hand slowly inching towards the car door handle and escape. He starts. He stops. He hesitates. He looks at his surroundings. He tries again. I thought he was done once the gun fire erupted, but turns out this is our main character. I like him already.

- I'm still impressed at how charitable Fontaine is. He considers his "unseen friend" next door to his first cell as someone worth loving and grieving over. He allows Blanchet's moods to affect him, and in spite of everything, doesn't fully pursue his own heart's desire until he's convinced Blanchet over to his side. In fact, he doesn't just take the old guy into his confidence, he involves him by asking for his advice. When everyone else questions Orsini, Fontaine makes Orsini a partner along with him. He tries to comfort and encourage him, and risks everything to help him. The cell wing does literally turn into a fellowship because of Fontaine. When the Reverend gives him a copy of John chapter 3, Fontaine's immediate response is to read out loud to Blanchet.

- When Jost appears on the scene, Fontaine has to choose between partnering with him and killing him. But we immediately know which option Fontaine prefers. He takes Jost under his wing, and is persistent in, well, wooing him almost, into a willing escape partner. Jost makes a dangerous escape partner because he's young, inexperienced, impulsive and unsure of himself. His responses aren't of the sort that give Fontaine, or us, much confidence in him. But Fontaine treats him respectfully, keeps squeezing his shoulder in encouragement, and when Jost fails him, he ignores it and doesn't even bother to say a single word about it. It's implied at the end that Fontaine's salvation directly results from how he has treated and risked himself in order to help Jost all this time.

- The body language of the characters in this film conveys so much. The old man sitting next to, then alone, then next to Fontaine in the car. The subservient pose Fontaine adopts anytime his cell door opens or closes. The slump of the shoulders as soon as Fontaine returns from killing the Nazi guard - what is that, weariness or sadness? The utter disappointment in himself that Jost displays as he hangs his head after one look by Fontaine. This film is short on spoken dialogue, but it's not short on dialogue. Now that I think of it, the other Bresson films I've seen do the same sort of thing. Seems to be a pattern here.

- I've been slightly annoyed by the passivity of some characters in Bresson's films. I didn't find this problem with A Man Escaped, perhaps because the passivity here was all faked? How much passivity was an act for the characters in Bresson's other films? I'll have to check and think over that one.

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Free on Hulu this week.

They have a bunch of other Criterion rarities for free this week, too.

Why must you complicate my life with these announcements? Not half-off for the Blu-ray, not a sale, not a technology that I can't access because I don't subscribe to it, but free. Free! All I have to do is carve out time.

Hey, does the "week" of free-ness go through Saturday? Because I'm seeing TWO Bresson films that afternoon and could make it a Bresson triple-feature Saturday if this is still available.

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Hey, does the "week" of free-ness go through Saturday? Because I'm seeing TWO Bresson films that afternoon and could make it a Bresson triple-feature Saturday if this is still available.

I would assume it does, since the announcement went out today, but I haven't seen any specific dates yet.

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As of today, A Man Escaped expires in 13 days. L'argent is also free right now, but expires in 6 days.

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It must have been a long time since I saw this before, because I forgot it used voiceover (let alone how heavily it relies on voiceover). I'm still not a huge fan, but it is interesting to see how art-film directors can make a genre movie, kind of like Bela Tarr making a heist movie in The Man From London.

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OK, I'm going to watch A Man Escaped right now. My third Bresson film of the day. Overkill? Maybe.

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Question: does anyone know where one can obtain a good DVD copy of this film? I have been searching for one, and am about to spring for the "New Yorker Video" DVD that you can order from private sellers via Amazon. But, speaking of amazon reviews, they have said the following:

"... The New Yorker print, however, is the worst copy of this film (16mm, 35mm, television screenings) I have ever seen. This was a copy with a lack of contrast, extra noise on the track, looking like a dub. If only there was a decent attempt to attain anything better would have begun to do the film justice. As it is, enjoy what you're stuck with but know there's something better out there ..."

"... As to the New Yorker DVD listed here, I'm afraid it is severly lacking in quality. The print used is dirty and dark, and the transfer itself suffers from a poor PAL to NTSC conversion that results in 'combing' and 'ghosting' (For those not technically inclined, this basically means that the film runs faster than an American film, but the difference in speed was not properly accounted for, causing a sort of blurriness in some scenes). There are also no special features, save for a few trailers for other Bresson films. As of the date of this review, the New Yorker disc is $26.99, and in my opinion that is simply too much to pay for a DVD that is this mediocre ..."

"... Artificial Eye's UK Region 2 PAL DVD is a distinct improvement on New Yorker's NTSC DVD. Althpough it doesn't have the unsubtitled trailer included on the US release, it does have a good 54-minute Dutch documentary, The Road to Bresson, and superior picture quality ..."

And, a February 2009 comment unhelpfully remarks: "Don't waste $70 + on this DVD, Criterion has announced that they will be releasing this Bresson masterpiece."

This is currently the year 2012, with all the technological and consumer advances that come with it. Does anyone have an "Artificial Eye UK Region 2" version and should I try for that one instead?

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The AE disc is fine, especially since you can often get it cheap and it includes the excellent documentary The Road to Bresson, but there is a French Blu-ray with English subs as well. It is true that Criterion will be releasing it some day soon--as its recent Hulu and theatrical appearances have made clear--so do keep that in mind.

Edit: I definitely wouldn't get the NYer DVD...it's a lackluster transfer from the PAL source (which means it has a lot of interference in stills and plays at a slightly faster speed than normal), doesn't have any extras, and (I'll admit this is minor) blasts Mozart at you every time you go to the menu. Wait for a proper Criterion release...or better yet, catch it on the big screen!

Edited by Doug C

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Okay, watched this yesterday. My first Bresson was PICKPOCKET and it left me a bit cold, but I loved this one. Masterful suspense, but never manipulative. We really come to identify with Fontaine. I can see why the New Wave directors admired Bresson as he does so much with so little. Looking forward to going back and reading this thread.

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Criterion!

The thrilling jailbreak film (which, as always, is about so much more) will come packed with a documentary, vintage TV special, visual essays and much more
Edited by Overstreet

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Criterion!

The thrilling jailbreak film (which, as always, is about so much more) will come packed with a documentary, vintage TV special, visual essays and much more

A particularly exciting bunch of releases, especially Col. Blimp and A Man Escaped.

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Criterion!

The thrilling jailbreak film (which, as always, is about so much more) will come packed with a documentary, vintage TV special, visual essays and much more

A particularly exciting bunch of releases, especially Col. Blimp and A Man Escaped.

I've seen the Blimp restoration, and it is a thing of beauty.

What a rich harvest awaits us this March!

Edited by Nathaniel

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So where do I get a poster sized version of that cover?

But frankly, The Blob excites me more than anything else in that list. Many scenes from that film define horror for me.

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Just seen this and found it surprisingly gripping compared to the other two Bresson's I've seen (Balthazzar and Diary). I would recommend this far more widely than I would those films because it's so accessible. And the uk DVD of this film is pretty great for a budget version.

Matt

Oh I've also seen his Joan of Arc film (in fact I reviewed it for a previous version of the top 100)

Edited by MattPage

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Link to 2011 Top 100 Blurb from John A.

It had been a couple of years since I revisited this film. 

The three things that struck me most on a revisit were:

--The amount of time in between when Fontaine prepares escape and when he actually attempts it. It is easy enough to present the film as a depiction of being spirit led, and there is a kind of patience in not being spurred into premature action by the interrogation or addition of Jost to his cell. There is a frequency I hadn't recalled of other prisoners telling him he had to go and him saying he was waiting for an "answer." One thought occurred to me this time. If the struggle to leave was at least part internal, based on fear, perhaps the addition of Jost was a providence, in a sense, spurring him to action when he was not able to to move from preparation to point-of-no-return execution.

--I had forgotten about the line about Orsini having to fail for him to succeed. That complicates a providential reading (for me). I've always struggled with films that have more overt providential interpretations when the course of actions involve the sacrifice of someone else. (This has come up mostly with Signs.) 

--On that same note, Fontaine says something along the lines that he "trusts" his hooks and his preparation and that is why he will succeed. Of course preparation is not incompatible with trust in God's providence as the ultimate factor of success, but it was a bit of jolt to be reminded of it, of its been making me wonder if I have to make my interpretation more nuanced to account for it. 

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