A Man Escaped (1956)

a-man-escaped-md-web

First time with Bresson.

From the first moments (post-credits) we are made to feel like conspirators – with all the exciting potency and uneasy sense of risk that entails. In the car the camera’s glance darts back and forth as if we are being trusted to give the signal (spare pairs of eyes will later become integral to Fontaine’s escape plan). After failure and a beating he plays dead, “…sure I was being watched”; no broken bones but “I can’t have been a pretty sight.” Throughout AME ines of sight, perspective and panoptic paranoia create a spatial field which RB distends through long takes into scenes of uncompromising tautness (unsurprisingly this two-dimensional principle is exactly how games like Splinter Cell work).

Little room for artifice; reminded of Beckett’s attempts to write without style. Light and shadow is peacefully uncomplicated, planar, like Dreyer stills. A guard drags his keys along iron bannisters to create broken tones, a musicality alien in the colourless prison. Winter Light, monastic focus and interiority.

Your man’s got a bit of Ian Curtis about him, but also the languid and intelligent grace of Edward Fox in The Day of The Jackal (as it exists in my memory).

The focus is intensely manual, material. Processes are given proper attention and become ritualistic, freighted with history like artisan handiwork. Repetition of close shots (lean from bed, keyhole circle) gives texture to the distension which creates an unsettling timelessness to the incarceration (there is only a threatened terminus – these abstractions play into the catholic subtext, works and salvation amid abstract waiting). The exposition is again conspiratorial but also mirrors the dry but allusive concision of the visuals – “that night I fell asleep less unhappy.”

Besides all that it’s a great true story (as declared), a Colditz feat deftly and patiently handled and infused with a spiritual urgency. Sweaty palms.

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