A Man Escaped ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Exquisitely single-minded, intricately detailed filmmaking accounting the unadorned and virtually context-free scheming and execution of an escape attempt by a French Resistance officer in a Nazi prison. François Leterrier is the perfect actor for this, with his face hiding mysteries but still easy to read emotionally; and in the last act, when he's joined in his cell by a second party, there is despite the minimalism an opportunity for Bresson's true "tests of faith" and such. It's all thoroughly engrossing, but it left me curiously underwhelmed. After only one viewing it's hard to say why, but my current guess would be a combination of the voiceover removing virtually every possibility of misinterpretation (and interrupting many otherwise hypnotic scenes) and of the very deliberate decision by Bresson to simply move his character from point A to point B without any great dramatic adornment, his purpose only to make us feel the hours and times of painstaking effort and to demonstrate the immense determination, character, belief (and divinity?) that actually allows Lt. Fontaine to make his way out. The sense of geography and scale is deeply admirable; it's telling that the outside world, when we come to it, only seems slightly less claustrophobic than the cell. There is still something that feels empty to me about announcing you are going to show a man escaping and then doing so; oddly, the film I imagined this to be in my mind during years and years of hearing about it without seeing it uncannily resembles the final product. Just add Mozart. Otherwise, it's never surprising, at least to me (I don't like how demanding or lazy this makes me sound, for what it's worth). In fact my issue may simply be that the film sticks to its modest ambitions and only hints at anything deeper, thereby avoiding the very kind of risk-taking it appears to celebrate -- of course it's gripping, but the film itself does little of that work, serving mostly as a strong visual aid to an extant narrative. How this fits with my love of Cuaron's Gravity, with its intentional paring down of a suspense situation to its bare essentials, and Better Call Saul, which similarly puts us through the wringer week after week of repetitive, mundane motions and activities to often frustratingly facile ends, would require longer and deeper thought, but for now I'm just going to gamely file this away and see how it goes the next time.