Having seen Le Trou, and knowing how that goes, I was a bit relieved to see that A Man Escaped is based on a true story from the memoirs of the man that escaped. Means that no matter how high the tension got – like seeing our protagonist being sentenced to death at Hotel Terminus – you knew that it was unlikely to end with a firing squad.
I have had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with Bresson in the 1001 films list. Out of the previous three films of his, I have only liked one of them – my issue with the other two being a main character who I not only disliked, but also failed to understand their motivations. Sure, I’m a bit of a goodie two shoes – sue me.
With A Man Escaped, it is difficult to find a situation where you can route for someone more – a member of the French resistance plans and executes their escape from prison in order to not be executed by the invading Nazi troops. This is the plot of the film where we spend most of the time seeing how he prepares his tools and comes up with the best way to escape – again, all based on the memoirs of the man who escaped.
There’s a bit at the beginning where Bresson states that all we are about to see is true – thankfully he omitted the torture elements of the true story, but everything else hasn’t been altered too much for cinematic effect. Knowing that, it is difficult to not be in awe as we watch this man fashion tools, map his surroundings and come up with the easiest way to actually get out of his cell (a few months with a sharpened spoon and, oddly enough, a wooden prison door).
Like with Journal of a Country Priest, this film is a bit of a slow burn – but that just helps when it comes to building up the tension. Even though you know it’s going to be okay – this is still a prison where 7 out of 10 inmates were killed and there’s plenty of obstacles between this man and freedom. It’s a real triumph of a man’s ingenuity and what the price of freedom can be – and then there is me who would have probably fallen to their death in the first few minutes having weaved a bad rope.