EW Movie Review: "A Man Escaped"
"A Man Escaped," a gripping art film from the 1950s, is screening this week at the Film Forum. Entertainment Weekly contributing critic Owen Gleiberman filed the following review.
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Starting this weekend, Film Forum is presenting a week-long run of what I’m guessing may be the greatest art film you’ve never seen: Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped.” Originally released in 1956, it’s a prison-escape movie made in Bresson’s famously austere, nearly deadpan style, a mode of filmmaking that grew increasingly forbidding as the director’s career wore on. The funny thing is, this a movie you could almost imagine being made by the Hollywood of today.
The beauty of it is that Bresson’s obsessively quiet, meticulous, and understated style allows us to experience a prison escape not in the usual overwrought movie terms, but as it might really have happened. That makes “A Man Escaped” more thrilling than any thriller.
Bresson himself was a prisoner of the Nazis, and in “A Man Escaped,” he sticks close to the true story of Andre Devigny, a French resistance fighter who was held in the prison of Lyon in 1943.
Kicking off what was in effect a career-long experiment in using non-actors in leading roles, Bresson cast Francois Leterrier, a French philosophy student, as his hero. Skinny and remote, with a shock of hair and hawk-like eyes that recall the Robert De Niro of Taxi Driver with maybe a touch of the young David Byrne, Leterrier is magnetic as a man tossed into a nine-by-six-foot cell who begins to fixate on getting out.
The movie shows us the physical process of how he does it—the slow carving away at the boards in his prison door, the twisting of torn shirt strands into an impromptu rope. “A Man Escaped” turns these details into a kind of existential diary, as if it were a Hitchcock movie written by Sartre. By the end, the film provokes a unique feeling of liberation. That’s because it’s not just about prison. It’s really a story of the things we do to free ourselves from life.
You can see “A Man Escaped” all this week at Film Forum.