The stark, simple cinematic footprint of Robert Bresson was never more in evidence than in his classic A Man Escaped. With minimal dialogue and most of the movie narrated in voiceover, the riveting tale of an escape from a cobbled-together Nazi prison continues to mesmerize all these years later. Offering a master class in using close-ups to tell a story, Robert Bresson put a personal stamp on this material that truly makes it one of a kind.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: French 1.0 PCM (Mono)
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 41 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/24/2013
Imprisoned by the Nazis for espionage in Lyon in 1943, Fontaine (Francois Leterrier) expects that he only has months to live and must somehow make his escape from a hotel which has been turned into a makeshift prison. Eventually housed on the third floor of the building, he begins fashioning hooks and rope from the available materials in his cell starting with a spoon which serves as a chisel, netting wire from the bed to bind cut up shirts and sheets into ropes, and hooks fashioned from a lighting fixture. But the hotel is well guarded, and Fontaine must summon up his courage to finally make his move. That becomes even more frightening when the Nazis condemn him to a firing squad (though he doesn’t know exactly when it will be) and put another man into his cell, Jost (Charles Le Clainche) who’s wearing a German army coat making Fontaine think the man may be a spy placed there to prevent his trying anything.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Writer-director Robert Bresson has really kept dialogue between characters to a bare minimum (easy to do since the Nazis forbid the prisoners to talk) and resorts to Fontaine’s voiceover narration to inform the viewer to his thoughts and feelings. Over the course of his prison time, we’re introduced to some other interesting fellow prisoners whom we really don’t get to know much about but who capture our hearts anyway due to their unrestrained support of Fontaine’s efforts (he earns their respect once he figures out a way to chisel out three wooden planks in his door which he can use to get out into the hallway and to their cells during the night). The Pastor (Roland Monod), the tragic Orsini (Jacques Ertaud), and his elderly next door neighbor Blanchet (Maurice Beerblock) all make the most of their restrictive screen time, their haunting faces and in the case of the first two fierce desire to live making them memorable creations. The escape itself covers only the last quarter hour of the movie, but it’s heartstoppingly suspenseful where Bresson masterfully uses sound as importantly as his images to establish a razor-edged sense of tension and possible impending doom. But the film gains so much of its unique power through Bresson’s unflinching use of close-ups: faces, hands, feet, or that door, a window, a courtyard and through spare but effective sound effects.
Though it’s not quite a one-man-show, Francois Leterrier has just about the next best thing as the camera stays on his face, hands, and body primarily though the majority of the film’s perfectly paced 101 minutes. He feigns humility and never betrays his feelings of contempt for the Nazis wisely playing his cards very close to his vest. Charles le Clainche’s open-faced innocence makes him a wonderful enigma: we spend much of his screen time wondering if he’s honest or a snake in the grass waiting to spring. As cohorts to Fontaine’s cause, Jean-Paul Delhumeau and Roland Monod lend helpful support. As the tragic Orsini whose failure to escape aids Fontaine in his own more knowledgeable and thoughtful plan, Jacques Ertaud is a poignant presence.
The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is exemplary throughout the running time of the picture, and the film’s grain structure seems to have been faithfully maintained. And yet, any age-related artifacts like dirt and scratches have been expertly removed offering up a near pristine image. Black levels don’t plumb the depths, but otherwise the grayscale representation is strong and most appealing. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is a very good representation of the sound design for its era. Though there isn’t much on the low end of the sound spectrum, the dialogue, sound effects, and music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart comes through clearly and without one being shortchanged in the mix. There’s a slight bit of muffled flutter heard midway through the film, but hiss, pops, and crackle have been dealt with with professional grace.
Audio Quality: 4/5
Bresson: Without a Trace (1:07:31, SD): a 1965 television interview for French television marking director Robert Bresson’s first on-camera interview. He talks about his (very unique) views on cinema with lengthy clips from a couple of his movies shown.
Special Features Rating: 5/5
The Road to Bresson (56:22, HD): a 1984 documentary detailing the director’s techniques and philosophies of filmmaking and showing lengthy clips from three of his movies. In addition to comments from the director are speakers actress Dominique Sanda, writer-director Paul Schrader, and director Louis Malle. This also shows footage of Bresson winning the Grand Prix at Cannes for his last film L’Argent.
The Essence of Forms (45:56, HD): a 2010 documentary with lead actor Francois Leterrier and others who have worked with the director discuss his methods and techniques. A Man Escaped is the film primarily used for discussion of his methodology.
Functions of Film Sound (19:48, HD): a new visual essay on the movie with text by film scholars Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell and read by actor Dan Stevens detailing the interesting application of sound to A Man Escaped.
18-page Booklet: contains cast and crew lists, several stills from the film, and critic Tony Pipolo’s enthusiastic essay on the movie and the moviemaker’s other films.
Timeline: which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
For those who aren’t familiar with writer-director Robert Bresson, A Man Escaped is a terrific starting point to get used to his austere filmmaking style and unusual camera placements. In addition to a taut story, the disc boasts excellent video and audio transfers and a rich selection of lengthy documentaries which really allow a novice to get to know the man behind the camera. Recommended highly!
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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