If anyone needs to be won over to the joys and rewards of minimalism in cinema, Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped is the best place to start.
Much of it shows Fontaine (François Leterrier) alone in his cell, making contact with fellow prisoners and slowly chipping his way to freedom.
Like all Bresson's films, this one illustrates his long-developed theories of the cinematograph or cinema-writing instrument: non-professionals giving strictly de-dramatised performances; enormous emphasis on off-screen sound and the information it carries; music held off until a final, glorious moment.
Like the other great prison films of French cinema, Jacques Becker's Le Trou (1960) and Jean Genet's Un Chant d'amour (1950), A Man Escaped offers a remarkably potent allegory of human suffering and the drive to liberation. At the same time, it delivers an attenuated, taut form of suspense to rival the best of Hitchcock.
For many years, A Man Escaped was appreciated for its existential and spiritual dimensions: man's solitude, the fragility of communication with others, the gift of God's grace. More recently, its political dimension has been foregrounded, as a reflection of Bresson's experience in the Resistance – thus giving his entire career, with its themes of subjection and "souls in torment", a socially-grounded urgency.
© Adrian Martin April 2003