Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

A Man Escaped (or The Wind Bloweth Where it Listeth) [Un condamnéà mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle oùil veut] (1956)

    [Robert] Bresson, one of the most thoughtful and philosophical of directors, was fearful of 'performances' by his actors. He famously
    forced the star of 'A Man Escaped' (1956) to repeat the same scene some 50 times, until it was stripped of all emotion and inflection.
    All Bresson wanted was physical movement. No emotion, no style, no striving for effect. What we see in the pickpocket's face is
    what we bring to it. Instead of asking his actors to 'show fear,' Bresson asks them to show nothing, and depends on his story and
    images to supply the fear.
        -REVIEW : of Pickpocket (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

    Bresson had wanted to entitle the film 'Aide-toi' ('Help yourself'), part of the French expression, 'Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera': in
    other words, 'Heaven helps those who help themselves.' He commented: 'I would like to show this miracle: an invisible hand over the
    prison, directing what happens and causing such and such a thing to succeed for one and not for another.... . The film is a
    mystery...The Spirit breathes where it will."
        -PROFILE : French filmmaker Robert Bresson (1901-1999) : "When one is in prison, the most important thing is the door" (David
        Walsh, 20 January 2000, World Socialist Web Site)

It seems strange to me that Robert Bresson referred to himself as a "Christian atheist", because God is very much present in this film. A Man Escaped is based on the true story of André Devigny, a member of the French Resistance who managed to break out of prison just hours before he was to be executed by the Germans.  The movie begins with the prisoner, here called Fontaine, being driven to jail.  The men beside him are cuffed, but he is not.  He tries to get away when the car stops but is recaptured and beaten about the head.

In prison, Fontaine nearly succumbs to despair, fearful that his fellow Resistance fighters will be rounded up too, but then a stranger intervenes, a prisoner exercising in the courtyard who promises to get a note to them.  Relieved of this concern, Fontaine once again sets his mind to escape.  While other men remain bound either physically or mentally, Fontaine develops a detailed plan of escape and arduously sets about implementing it.

Bresson presents Fontaine's machinations in painstaking detail.  He also confines most of the film to Fontaine's cell, so the viewer too feels like a captive.  Seemingly forgotten by the Germans, Fontaine delays his escape attempt.  He believes that two people will be required to make the attempt work, but is unable to convince anyone else to join him.  He is himself afraid to take the leap of faith that it requires, seemingly waiting for a sign that he should go ahead.  The sign comes quite suddenly in the form of his death sentence, his crimes not forgotten after all.

But now, just when everything seems to have fallen into place, another prisoner is placed in the cell with Fontaine, a very young man whom he has every reason to distrust as a stool pigeon, planted at the last minute by the Germans.  His execution scheduled for the next day, Fontaine has but two choices : kill the boy or include him in the escape.  Once again Fontaine has thrust upon him a matter of faith.

His resolution to this problem and the ensuing escape are exciting stuff.  The very sparseness of the film and the way Bresson strips it of emotion, makes the action, as he intended, speak for itself, and it speaks volumes.  But there are also big ideas at work here, the most refreshing of which, particularly coming from a Frenchman in the 1950s, is that faith and hope matter and that we can take some control of events through our own actions.  The most famous image of the French intellectuals' view of life is the example of Sisyphus, as per Albert Camus.  Sisyphus, a Titan sentenced to eternal punishment for rebelling against the Gods, has to push a boulder up a hill all day, and at the end of the day, just as he arrives at the top, it rolls back down again.  Bresson's film is perhaps best understood as a refutation of this fatalistic and futile worldview; A Man Escaped suggests that indeed we can escape the fates, can create our own destinies, if only we have faith and make the effort.  The impetus remains with us, even if the ultimate outcome remains in the hands of "The Spirit".


Grade: (A+)


See also:

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Robert Bresson (
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Robert Bresson (Senses of Cinema)
    -OBIT : Robert Bresson, France's revered director, dies at 92 (MICHAEL CRABB - CBC Radio Arts)
    <a href=>-Great Directors--a critical database : Robert Bresson</a> (Alan Pavelin, Senses of Cinema)
    -ESSAY : Notes on sound by Robert Bresson (Film Sound Theory)
    -PROFILE : French filmmaker Robert Bresson (1901-1999) : "When one is in prison, the most important thing is the door" (David Walsh, 20 January 2000, World Socialist Web Site)
    -ESSAY : A Cinema of God's Grace (Robert E. Lauder, The Crisis)
    -ESSAY : THE FILMS OF ROBERT BRESSON : The Mozart of French cinema (Joseph Cunneen, Commonweal, Feb 9, 2001)
    -ESSAY : Robert Bresson : An Introduction (Kent Jones, Film Comment Magazine)
    -ESSAY : Stations Of The Cross : A traveling retrospective is recognizing the late Robert Bresson's lasting influence and unique achievement (RICHARD CORLISS, Jul. 17, 2000, TIME)
    -ESSAY : Robert Bresson retrospective : The Wolf looks at the original auteur (Inside Out Film)
    -ESSAY : All is Grace : Poetry in motion: The Films of Robert Bresson : Bresson resurrected and renewed (Gary Morris, April 1999, Bright Lights Journal)
    -ESSAY : The Cinema of Robert Bresson : The Failure to Find the Holy Grail
    -ESSAY : Fragments of Reality: The Cinema of Robert Bresson (1907-1999) :The world will miss pure auteur style of enigmatic French genius (Rustin Thompson, Movie Maker)
    -ESSAY : Robert Bresson: Depth Behind Simplicity (Sarah Jane Gorlitz, Spring 2000, Kinema)
    -ESSAY : The Narrative Cracks: Emotion in Robert Bresson (Bill Mousoulis, Senses of Cinema)
    -ESSAY : Bresson: Destinies Making Themselves In A Work Of Hands  (Mark C. Zenner, Senses of Cinema)
    -ESSAY : Four Nights of a Dreamer : A Post-Romantic's View of a Robert Bresson Film  (Mark C. Zenner, Senses of Cinema)
    -ESSAY : Bressonian (Adrian Martin, Senses of Cinema)
    -ESSAY : Notes : Robert Bresson retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive (Adriane Giebel, Summer 1999, Harvard Advocate)
    -ARCHIVES : "robert bresson" (Find Articles)
    -INFO : A Man Escaped (1956) (
    -INFO : A Man Escaped (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -REVIEW : of A Man Escaped (Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid)
    -REVIEW: of A Man Escaped (Ron Reed, 11/23/2004, Christianity Today)
    -REVIEW : of A Man Escaped (Acquarello)
    -REVIEW : of A Man Escaped (Robert Stewart , Glyphs)
    -DISCUSSION : of A Man Escaped ( Forums)
    -REVIEW : of Diary of a Country Priest (1950)  (Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid)
    -REVIEW : of Pickpocket (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of Pickpocket (1959) (Rick J Thompson, Senses of Cinema)
    -REVIEWS : of Au Hasard, Balthazar (1966) and Mouchette (1967) (Bill Mousoulis, Senses of Cinema)
    -REVIEW : of L'Argent (1983) (Adrian Miles, Senses of Cinema)
    -ESSAY : How Art Turned into Shmart: Utility in L'Argent   (Mark C. Zenner, Senses of Cinema)
    -REVIEW : of Robert Bresson by Keith Reader (Tony Lee, Dowse)
    -FILM LIST : Derek Malcolm's Century of Film : Robert Bresson: Pickpocket (The Guardian uk)
    -FILM LIST : Never Mind the AFI... Here's My Top 100 : Combustible Celluloid's 100 Great Movies : Diary of a Country Priest, A Man Escaped (Jeffrey M. Anderson)