A Man Escaped (Directors Suite) (1956)

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Released 1-Jul-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-by Ross Gibson, Prof. of Contemporary Arts, Uni. of Sydney
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1956
Running Time 96:38 (Case: 99)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (60:38) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Bresson
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring François Leterrier
Charles Le Clainche
Maurice Beerblock
Roland Monod
Jacques Ertaud
Jean Paul Delhumeau
Roger Treherne
Jean Philippe Delamarre
César Gattegno
Jacques Oerlemans
Klaus Detlef Grevenhorst
Leonhard Schmidt
Roger Planchon
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    A Man Escaped is an example of what cinema is like in its purest form. Robert Bresson's 1956 film transcends the viewer to another time and place, and this is what good cinema does, however, whereas modern films attempt to do this through the story, Bresson achieved 'transcendence' in his films by his sparse cinematography and non-professional actors providing 'stripped-down' performances, leaving the audience to meditate on the action within the film. This is why Bresson is often coupled in his cinematic style with Yasujiro Ozu and Carl Theodor Dreyer. Ozu's style was famous for it's action/reaction editing, he would shoot 'everyday-life' scenes (like two people drinking tea, for example) and then cut to a shot of the skyline (or something similar), so as to allow the audience time to reflect on the scene. These so-called 'pillow-shots' at first don't seem to serve a purpose, until the viewer realises that it makes them think more about the film. Dreyer also used non-professional actors in his films and sparse photography. His 1955 masterpiece, Ordet contains only 114 shots in 125 minutes for an average shot length (or ASL) of 65 seconds. Compare this to the average 8-11 secs ASL before 1960 or the modern 4-6 secs ASL of current-day films. Paul Schrader, screenwriter of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and director of Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters wrote an excellent book in 1972 on this subject matter entitled Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer and this book is in fact referenced by Ross Gibson on the audio commentary of this film.

    This 'transcendental' style is evident in A Man Escaped through the many elongated fades-to-black in the first two acts of the film, especially after a shot where the main character, Fontaine (played by philosophy student Francois Leterrier) is shown to be making or using tools for his escape. In contrast, the last act introduces the character Jost (Charles Le Clainche) into the film and he has to share Fontaine's cell, making a dilemma evident in the screenplay: does Fontaine trust and include Jost in his escape plan from the gaol, or would he be forced to kill him from fear that he is a traitor sympathetic to the Nazi cause? In the last act of the film, the voice-over narration is not used as much, there is a lot more vocal silence used, especially during the escape attempt, and scene transitions are no longer fade-to-black, rather Bresson uses cross-fades from scene-to-scene which depicts fervent activity, yet Bresson does this without compromising on his transcendental, cinematic style.

    A Man Escaped has been loosely included in a trilogy of prison films by Robert Bresson including Pickpocket and The Trial of Joan of Arc, however, a better style analysis can be formed by comparing the heavily voiced-over narrations from each of the main characters in Diary of a Country Priest (1951) and Pickpocket (1959) which is also evident in A Man Escaped. Similarly, like Ozu, Bresson has a tendency in these films to deliberately not show the audience important plot points. For example, in A Man Escaped Fontaine's escape and his altercation with a Nazi guard is off-camera, similarly in Pickpocket the main character Michel is not shown in the act of being caught attempting to pickpocket his victim. Such a move would be unthinkable in the mind of a modern director, but in Bresson's films it's the consequence from these actions that matter much more to the theme of his films.

    The full title of A Man Escaped is translated 'A Man Escaped or: The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth' from the French into English. This borrows from the 1611 King James version of the Bible as the title of this film is a reference to John 3:8. This biblical reference is mentioned in the film, and is meant to summarise the overall spiritual theme of Fontaine's hope in the midst of sure condemnation to death. In French the title is also referred to a 'One condemned to die escapes' and although the audience is given the premise of the film within this title reference, it doesn't take away from the suspense that Bresson is able to impart on-screen. The film is based on the novel by resistance fighter Andre Devigny, who escaped from Montluc fortress where 7000 of 10000 prisoners died. Bresson states at the beginning of the film, in the opening credits: "This is a true story. I told it as it happened, without embellishment." The fact that the film was actually shot in Montluc prison, only a decade after the events of the film, is testimony to Bresson's statement. Devigny also gave Bresson his real hooks and ropes that he used for his escape for the film, but whether Fontaine is based on Devigny or Bresson, who was also a prisoner of war during World War II, is another matter entirely.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is most likely a port of the excellent Region 2, 2008 Artificial Eye release of the film.

    The aspect ratio of the film is 1:33:1 fullscreen.

    The film has black lines across the image from 2:39 until 10:27. These 'tram-lines' are frequent, and this is similarly the case on the Region 2 Artificial Eye transfer, but after this there are no more lines across the picture. At times the image is slightly grainy but overall the transfer is superb for a film made in the 1950s. The average bitrate of the film is 7.23 m/b sec, but with so many fades-to-black in the film, the actual bitrate is higher, mostly 8 to 10 m/b sec, which explains why the film looks so good.

    The black and white cinematography has excellent contrast in its tones of greys and whites, although the image does look overexposed at times during scenes with prominent daylight, but this rare.

    There are some very minor film artefacts in the transfer. Black artefacts occur at 15:48, 63:46, 79:05, 85:25 and 93:18. White artefacts occur at 4:52, 45:27 and 71:04. There is also a very minor instance of telecine wobble at 49:54.

    Subtitles are provided in white and in yellow and are easy to follow. Madman Entertainment must be lauded for this option that it provides for it's customers.

    The RSDL change occurs at 60:38, in the middle of a fade-to-black scene change so it is not noticeable at all by the viewer.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The soundtrack is also in good condition, with practically no hiss.

    The main audio track is in French and the audio commentary track is in English. Both tracks are Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks encoded at 224kbps.

    Dialogue is clear and synchronised throughout.

    The main piece of music used in the soundtrack is Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor. Bresson makes use of the opening Kyrie part of the movement, and uses it to bookend the film at the beginning and end and also during the scenes after Fontaine discusses his escape plan with his fellow prisoners and he is alone. This is a hauntingly, beautiful piece of music which is also referenced in Milos Forman's eight-time Academy Award acclaimed film, Amadeus. The soundtrack makes use of subtle sounds also, such as the sound of a pencil writing, or the chiselling of a spoon onto wood, the sound of guards' footsteps to great effect to build suspense.

    The soundtrack is mono so there is no surround channel differentiation.

    The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio Commentary by Ross Gibson, Professor of Contemporary Arts, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney

Ross Gibson's commentary is not scene-specific. Rather, it focuses on Bresson's style and the philosophical premise behind the film. Gibson begins by explaining the spiritual theme of the main title and then he references Paul Schrader's book on the Transcendental style of film found in Ozu, Bresson and Dreyer's works. He expands the notion of action and contemplation found in Bresson's films (much like Ozu's use of 'pillow-shots' mentioned previously) and how Bresson sought to use his training as an artist to present spiritual culture in cinema, in the same way that renaissance painters did in the middle ages.

    Gibson then expounds on the 'stripped-down' performances of the actors in Bresson's films which are not theatrical, but presented deliberately with bland emotions to supplement the theme of the film and not become the focus point of the scenes. Finally, the build-up of tension and the release of suspense is commented upon, with Bresson using visual and aural motifs to achieve this by using rising fog or steam at the end and referencing Mozart's Mass in C Minor throughout the film.

    Overall, this is another fine commentary by Madman Entertainment's Directors Suite label, but the viewer will have to keep in mind that this commentary is not focused on what happens on-screen as much as it aims to provide the viewer with the background information to Bresson's cinematic style that he used for A Man Escaped.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   A Man Escaped has been released in Region 1 by New Yorker in the United States with only a trailer for an extra and a poor PAL/NTSC conversion. The Region 2 United Kingdom release by Artificial Eye has an identical video and audio transfer to the Directors Suite Region 4 release, but it contains a 54-minute documentary about Bresson's work which includes commentary from leading filmmakers such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Louis Malle and Paul Schrader. This documentary is an excellent account of Bresson's filmography up to the time it was made in 1984 (Bresson retired from filmmaking after the 1983 feature, L'Argent) and looks at specifically Bresson's unique cinematic style. The Region 4 Directors Suite release contains a good commentary by Ross Gibson, so it is up to the preference of the viewer whether they prefer the Region 2 or Region 4 versions of A Man Escaped.

Summary

    After viewing A Man Escaped, it is no wonder that Robert Bresson was held in such high esteem by Cahiers du Cinema critics such as Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. Both these critics became world famous directors in their own right during the French New Wave era of the 1960s, with Bresson having a large influence on their style, specifically in his minimalism. Truffaut's 1956 tribute to the film can be referenced here.

    Bresson's contemplative style is not for everyone, but if you have any appreciation for classic filmmaking, then you will understand why Bresson's films of the 1950s and 1960s are considered masterpieces, of which A Man Escaped is no exception. Personally, I own four of Bresson's works from this era - Diary of a Country Priest, Pickpocket, Au hasard Balthazar and Mouchette, all released in Region 1 by the Criterion Collection. In my opinion, this Region 4 Directors Suite release is the equal of those releases by Criterion, and would make a very worthwhile addition to any fan of classic, world cinema.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 019), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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