Directed by: Robert Bresson
Starring: François Leterrier, Charles Le Clainche, Maurice Beerblock, Roland Monod
“This is a true story. I have told it as it happened, without embellishment.” Such is the claim of Robert Bresson at the beginning of his 1956 film A Man Escaped. While I suspect this is more truthful than other claims of “true stories” in movies, I’m still not taking that as absolute fact (though I suspect Bresson would claim that any embellishments were inherent in the memoir from which he adapted the film). Given Bresson’s penchant for a seemingly unadorned style, it’s probably as true as it can be, but let’s face it: The minute a filmmaker chooses his camera placement, settles on a take, or makes an edit, he has already embellished the truth to suit his idea of it. Despite that, A Man Escaped is a unique movie in Bresson’s filmography because it’s the only one of his films that can said to have been a hit with the public. Though much prized by the cognoscenti, Bresson was never a popular filmmaker with the broader moviegoing public. So what’s different here? Well, this film is much more accessible than most of his work. This film tells the story of a Frenchman (François Leterrier) imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II for sabotage activities is very straightforward — and whether it mattered to Bresson or not, the very nature of a man escaping from a well-fortified prison is inherently suspenseful. (Bresson plays down potentially big scenes like when our main character strangles a guard offscreen. But the material simply is suspenseful.) For me, it’s a bit on the overrated side (but I’d say that of any Bresson film). It’s effective and well-done, but I question that it’s all that special — it’s not Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1937) is — but Bresson’s adherents would say that I simply don’t “get” Bresson. And, that may be the case.
In Brief: Robert Bresson’s entertaining but overrated 1956 “true story” (he claims it as such) — about a man’s escape from a Nazi prison in France during World War II — has the distinction of being one of the director’s few profitable film, probably because it’s the most accessible. The escape itself is very well-done and the film is solidly made, but whether it’s anything notable in the realm of prison escape stories is debatable.