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Robert Bresson's late-career masterpiece finally gets a new lease on life on this Criterion Blu-ray edition....
Criterion / 101 Minutes / 1956 / Unrated / Street Date: March 26, 2013
Often cited as being the quintessential prison-break picture, Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped finally gets a chance to appeal to a new generation of movie viewers in the form of a scintillating new Criterion Blu-ray release. The movie has been heavily requested for years now – Criterion online forums have been besieged with demand for the title to get a release in one form or another for more than a decade – and while this high-def title might not exactly be Criterion’s most encyclopedic endeavor to date, it’s still a marvel to be able to freshly assess the cult-adored movie with a fresh set of eyes.
Bresson demands right away (in the form of a quick note before opening credits roll) that he is a mere conduit for the tale that’s about to unfold: he wants us to know that the events he’s about to unleash upon us are exactly what happened to soldier Andre Devigny, a guy who was nabbed by Nazis and put into a prison only to eventually find a way to break out and return to life as a free man. Utilizing nearly endless voice-over narration, Bresson guides us through the agonies and ecstasies of our protagonist’s journey with tender, breathlessly delicate fervor: any action in the movie is as slight as a whisper, but Bresson makes even just the act of scribbling words on a piece of paper (both items being contraband) feel like it’s of monumental importance.
That being said, I’ve always found a coldness at the heart of A Man Escaped that keeps it from ranking high on my list of the auteur’s most accomplished creations. The filmmaking at hand here is second to none, of course, but in refusing to offer a dramatic backstory to his character’s road to escape, A Man Escaped feels distinctly less emotionally earnest where classics like Au hazard Balthazar and Mouchette remain as devastating as ever. That doesn’t mean, however, that A Man Escaped isn’t an extraordinary motion picture: in fact, this brilliant new high-def edition makes the case that it’s one of the more steadfast and underrated cinematic releases of the 1950s.
No wonder so many people wanted Criterion to release it…