ManEscaped1A second viewing unlocked much of what I was missing in this much-revered Bresson work, his fourth feature: it was one of my first experiences with Bresson, and I was unable to grasp the unorthodox manner in which he merged his austere style with a subject as traditionally fast-moving as a prison break. Shame on me. This time around, I was struck by how deeply we get inside Fontaine’s (François Leterrier) mind as he meticulously plans his escape from the prison where he’s been condemned to death by the Nazi’s. Like in Diary of a Country Priest and Pickpocket, the protagonist narrates his actions and thoughts as the film develops. We watch Fontaine develop a method of communicating with his next-cell neighbor via wall-tapping patterns, and gamble upon trusting a stranger with smuggling incriminating messages out of jail. We see him learn the ins and outs of his cell, and begin devising his escape plan: mundane items like an iron spoon and bed springs become key cogs in his second-to-second life. At first glance, Bresson’s style would seem an odd choice for the material, perhaps even moreso than Pickpocket or Lancelot du Lac, but A Man Escaped casts a unique spell—if it’s not as emotionally haunting as Au Hasard Balthazar or Mouchette, it remains a powerful, compelling portrait of single-minded focus, discipline, and humanity. As Fontaine witnesses hope getting thinner and thinner—his wall-knocking neighbor is killed by firing squad; a getaway attempt by another inmate goes awry; Fontaine’s painstaking chipping away at his cell door hits a stumbling block—his resolve never falters. Potential obstacles like an unexpected new cell mate (Jost, played by Charles Le Clainche), whom he doesn’t know if he can trust, are handled as straightforwardly as can be—it’s like Fontaine knows God is on his side (and he does meet a Priest while doing his time…plus, Bresson’s films are always heavily steeped in faith). Leterrier, a patented Bresson amateur, has the perfect face for his role: a constant calm, focused look is ominpresent throughout. When A Man Escaped comes to its dramatic-without-drama conclusion, we feel as if we’ve lived inside Fontaine’s head for the past 100 minutes, and are trying to flee along with him.