Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped is generally looked at as one of the greatest prison-break movies ever made. The story was inspired by Andre Devigny, a decorated French lieutenant in World War II who escaped from Fort Montlue prison in German-occupied Lyon in 1943. Besides the beginning and final shots of the film, the entire story is set within the interior walls of the prison, which was modeled identically on the original. Bresson has the main protagonist Fontaine prepare for what everyone tells him will be an impossible escape, as he confronts moments of certain despair ultimately learning to prevail in the end. French director Robert Bresson who had also suffered cruelty at the hands of Germans during the war, wrote the screenplay and dialogue for the film which is based on a journalistic account Devigny had published in 1954.
Bresson reveals the story of A Man Escaped in an unadorned style, completely devoid of special effects, dramatic thrills, elevated tension, and the use of known movie stars. Most filmmakers use those tools as an artistic way to manipulate and distract its audience, Bresson only uses the bare necessities that are needed to tell its story, and the audience can fill the rest in for themselves. A Man Escaped creates character not through the actor’s performance but through the actions that are performed, as action becomes the character. Fontaine’s acting method is similar to Bresson’s directing method, in which it involves the close scrutiny of salient details. Bresson stages each scene without the use of fancy cinematography, using the basic vocabulary of close, medium, and long shots to tell what needs to be told about every scene, while simultaneously keeping the audience absorbed every step of the way. We watch in awe as Fontaine methodically and rhythmically takes apart his cell door, a window frame, his bedsprings, and patiently winds his bedclothes into rope, as we perceive these very acts as a form of attentiveness, creativity, diligence, fortitude, skill, patience, persistence and, not least, faith.