Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Man Escaped

Based on the memoirs of Andre Devigny, Un condamne a mort s’est ou Le vent souffle ou il veut (A Man Escaped or: The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth) is the story of a World War II POW trying to escape a treacherous prison under the role of the Nazis. Written and directed by Robert Bresson, the film is an exploration of a man trying to create the ultimate escape during his stay in prison. Starring Francois Leterrier, Charles Le Clainche, Maurice Beerblock, and Roland Monond. Un condamne a mort s’est ou Le vent souffle ou il veut is a chilling and suspenseful drama from Robert Bresson.

After being captured for his work with the French Resistance, Fontaine (Francois Leterrier) is sent to prison where tried to escape during a ride to the prison. Having to be put into handcuffs into a prison cell, Fontaine tries to deal with his situation as the only contact he encounters is a man he doesn’t see at all in a cell next to him. He also manages to communicate with an old man named Terry (Roger Treherne) who he sees walking at the prison courtyard where he secretly receives things. After being moved to a new cell a few floors above and not wear handcuffs, Fontaine decides to make plans to escape. While talking to fellow prisoners in a pastor (Roland Monond), a man named Hebrard (Jean Paul Delhumeau), and an elderly neighbor named Blanchet (Maurice Beerblock). Fontaine talks with them to pass the time while finding ways to flee his cell.

After a new prisoner named Orsini (Jacques Ertaud) arrives as he lives in a cell across from Fontaine’s, he decides to make his own plans to escape where he fails in his first attempt. After talking with Orsini on what to do, Fontaine realizes he had to do more than just make rope and break the limbs from his prison door. When he learns of the fate for his crimes, Fontaine decides to focus more of his time trying to get out as he gains a new cellmate in a 16-year old boy named Francois Jost (Charles Le Clainche). Fontaine becomes suspicious about Jost’s presence in his cell as he tries to wait for the moment to escape. Yet, he becomes unsure whether to trust Jost as he would make a daring move for freedom.

The film is essentially about a French Resistance fighter trying to find his way out of a POW prison in World War II as he also tries to deal with his surroundings as a few prisoners he meets either die or transferred to another prison. That’s pretty much the summary of the film as writer/director Robert Bresson goes into great detail of how a man slowly tries to plan his escape while finding ways to make his escape without getting caught. A lot of it is told in a voice-over narration where the character of Fontaine tries to think about what he’s doing as well as reflecting on everything that’s been happening to him. Bresson’s screenplay is loosely structured so it would allow the Fontaine character to slowly figure out how to create his escape where he would gain a few objects, over the course of his stay, to use in his escape.

The script also allows the character of Fontaine to make interactions with the few people he meets in prison where the elderly neighbor he gets in the film’s second act is a man that starts off as being very silent until Fontaine helps him during the daily cleaning where he finally talks. Another prisoner Fontaine gets to know is a man named Orsini whose wife had betrayed him to the authorities as he would make attempted escapes for Fontaine to observe on what not to do. Then there’s Jost, this young kid who had joined the German army as he becomes this wildcard that Fontaine doesn’t want and is unsure about him. It becomes an issue of trust for Fontaine while there’s also pressure to succeed to bring hope to the other prisoners who all want out. What Bresson creates is a very engaging and brooding screenplay that plays into everything that happens in a POW prison in World War II Nazi-occupied France.

Bresson’s direction is truly mesmerizing in the way he creates an intimacy for the prison scenes to the suspense that he creates for the film’s climatic escape scene where Fontaine tries to make sure nothing goes wrong. While a lot of the shots presented in the film are quite simple, the mood that Bresson presents with these scenes is very low-key in its drama as it’s all about the planning and determination to escape. Notably as the conversations between characters during their moments to wash themselves are hushed so they wouldn’t draw attention while Bresson keeps the camera in tact on these very quiet conversations.

One of the key aspects to present the film as this very unconventional prison drama is an opening scene to establish what happened at the Montluc prison during World War II where it’s unveiled in a plaque. It adds to the dramatic states of what Fontaine is doing on whether or not he will be a number mentioned in the plaque about those who died. Notably as Bresson maintains an idea of repetition of what these prisoners do to pass the time as they all look at Fontaine for what might be doing. The film’s climatic prison break in is really among one of the most tense moments of the film because there could be a moment where things go wrong as it’s all told by Fontaine where Bresson doesn’t stray from showing the sense of anxiety and fear that goes on. Overall, Bresson creates a truly hypnotic film that plays to the terror of escape from the perspective of a very determined man.

Cinematographer Leonce-Henri Burel does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white cinematography to set a mood for some of the film‘s interiors such as the different cells Fontaine live in to the climatic escape where the exterior lights help play to its suspense. Editor Raymond Lamy does fantastic work with the film‘s stylized editing to play up the suspense and drama with some rhythmic cuts and dissolves to help the film move at a methodical pace.

Production designer Pierre Charbonnier does superb work with the set pieces such as the cells that Fontaine lives in to the prison halls and courtyard that he and the other prisoners frequent. The sound work of Pierre-Andre Bertrand is terrific for setting the mood that is created in the intimate scenes at the cell as it’s all about sparse sound work. The film’s music that is played in the opening and closing credits is from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor to play up the drama that is to be displayed on film. 

The film’s cast is marvelous for the use of largely non-actors and unknowns that is assembled as it includes some standout performances from Jean Paul Delhumeau and Roland Monod as a couple of prisoners who root for Fontaine, Jacques Ertaud as the determined but un-prepared Orsini, Maurice Beerblock as the elderly cell neighbor Blanchet, and Roger Treherne as the kind prisoner named Terry that Fontaine meets. Charles Le Clainche is excellent as the young prisoner Jost who gets to know Fontaine though his association with the German army makes him a suspicious person in the prison. Finally, there’s Francois Leterrier in a phenomenal performance as Fontaine by exemplifying a very restrained yet charismatic performance as a man who is determined to leave but do it in a careful manner as it’s definitely the film’s major highlight.

Un condamne a mort s’est ou Le vent souffle ou il veut is an extraordinary prison drama from Robert Bresson. The film is definitely one of the most intriguing prison dramas created due to its suspense and the way an escape is set up in a more methodical manner. The film is also one of Bresson’s essential features in terms of its minimalist presentation and willingness to defy conventions to find realism in the story. In the end, Un condamne a mort s’est ou Le vent souffle ou il veut is a remarkable film from Robert Bresson.

Robert Bresson Films: (Les affairs publique) - (Les Anges du peche) - Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne - Diary of a Country Priest - Pickpocket - The Trial of Joan of Arc - Au Hasard Balthazar - Mouchette - (A Gentle Woman) - (Four Nights of a Dreamer) - (Lancelot du Lac) - (The Devil Probably) - L’Argent

© thevoid99 2012


David said...

I really need to watch it again,talking about the minimalist here,I remember a scene,where they hide in a corner,you can only hear what happens around the corner,and that's what Bresson gave us,brilliant.

Unknown said...

This is so far the best prison film I have seen. Just thinking back to those scenes in the cell makes me feel uneasy, and the tension during the final act is masterful.

thevoid99 said...

@David-it's the minimalism that won me over. That what's I love about Mouchette and with this film.

@Bonjour-It is truly one of the best prison films I've seen so far. I really want to check out more of Bresson's work. The escape scene send me chills. Truly a masterclass in filmmaking.

James said...

It's the methodical minimalism that you talk about that makes this film so riveting to me.

You know he escapes going in, it's in the title, but the focus on every little element and the way the simplest actions become emphasized makes it a suspenseful and enrapturing film experiences. To me, it's one of the great suspense pieces.

thevoid99 said...

@James-That sequence alone is true cinema. It's all about the details. Everything that could go wrong as you, the viewer, are hoping nothing will go wrong.

That's great filmmaking and I'm more intrigued now by Bresson than ever. I hope TCM shows more films of his in the coming months. I want more.