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Sacre Blu!

French behemoth Gaumont, a studio that has been around since the dawn of motion pictures and produced some of the greatest movies of all time, has recently begun releasing high-quality Blu-ray discs of their catalogue titles and aiming them squarely at the international market. Their new Blu-ray releases of two masterworks of French cinema, Jean Renoir’s French Cancan from 1954 and Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped from 1956, come with optional English subtitles and are “region-free” discs to boot. This means that you don’t need an obscure multi-region player like mine to enjoy them. (That’s right, American kids can now enjoy Bresson in high-definition on their Playstations!) For cinephiles everywhere, especially Francophile cinephiles like yours truly, this is cause for celebration.

French Cancan original poster art:

As someone who first saw French Cancan in the 1990s on a videotape from the old Interama VHS label, featuring an approximation of the film’s original color scheme that could be charitably described as “badly faded,” Gaumont’s new release comes as a major revelation. Their Blu-ray is based on a 2010 restoration of the original 3-strip Technicolor elements that causes the film’s vivid color cinematography, one of its most crucial aspects, to “pop” in a way that it never has before on home video. Putting to shame even the DVD version released by the normally reliable Criterion Collection from a few years back, I can honestly say I feel as though watching Gaumont’s Blu-ray of French Cancan was the first time I’ve ever truly seen the movie.

As its title implies, French Cancan is one of the most quintessentially French movies ever made. Directed by one of the giants of French cinema (himself the son of one of the giants of French Impressionist painting), the film tells the story of the founding of the legendary Moulin Rouge nightclub in the late 19th century and the concurrent revitalization of the can-can dance craze. Furthermore, Jean Gabin, arguably the most iconic of French actors, gives one of his most charismatic performances as Moulin Rouge founder Henri Danglard, and legendary songstress Edith Piaf even pops up in a cameo. Rounding out the cast are Maria Felix as Lola, Danglard’s belly-dancing mistress, with whom he eventually loses interest in favor of Nina, an ingenue played by the delightful Françoise Arnoul. It is ironic that the most memorable aspect of this French extravaganza might just be the ravishing Felix, an icon of the golden age of Mexican cinema, whose unforgettably hot-blooded star persona combined the fierce independence of a Joan Crawford with the full-bodied sensuality of an Ava Gardner.

Renoir was of course a great visual stylist. Central to appreciating the nostalgic, magisterial portrait of fin-de-siecle Paris he paints in French Cancan is recognizing his recreation of the feel of post-Impressionist painting. Because 3-strip Technicolor featured a more vibrant and “unrealistic” color palette than other color processes and because it featured a greater separation between colors, Technicolor was especially conducive to capturing the look of the broad planes of bright, primary colors seen in the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec. It is this aspect of French Cancan that positively dazzles on Blu-ray; the film’s famous can-can climax, an ecstatic, near-orgiastic riot of form and color that seems to go on forever, resembles nothing so much as a series of Toulouse-Lautrec paintings that have come thrillingly alive.

Marcelle Lender on Stage by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:

Robert Bresson also knew a thing or two about painting, having worked in that medium before turning his attention to filmmaking in the 1930s. Tantalizingly little is known about this early part of Bresson’s life (intriguingly, he claimed he gave up painting because it made him “nervous”). But if his movies are anything to go by, Bresson probably worked in the minimalist style of 17th century religious painter Georges de la Tour. The flatness and the “nocturnal light” of la Tour’s work, itself influenced by Caravaggio and the Dutch masters, appear to be a visual reference point for the similar qualities that can be found in Bresson’s work of the 1950s.

Gaumont originally signed on to produce A Man Escaped in the wake of the success of Bresson’s previous film, The Diary of a Country Priest in 1951. Based on the memoir of French Resistance member Andre Devigny, A Man Escaped tells the story of Fontaine, a Lieutenant in the French Army who escapes from a Nazi prison after being condemned to death for blowing up a bridge. All of the hallmarks of Bresson’s mature style, which can be seen in embryonic form in Country Priest, are fully realized for the first time in A Man Escaped; these include the use of non-professional actors who have been rigorously trained to recite their lines in flat, neutral tones, a frequent use of close-ups that fragment the human body, and a prominent use of voice-over narration and off-screen sounds. In A Man Escaped, all of these elements combine to create one of the most formally perfect and spiritually uplifting works of art that I know of.

Bresson’s use of sound especially is so creative that it is worth discussing in detail. A Man Escaped contains a fascinating interplay between sounds that are diegetic (coming from within the world of the movie) and non-diegetic (coming from without). Lieutenant Fontaine’s nonsimultaneous diegetic voice-over is crucial in drawing us into the character’s inner world. The past tense character of the narration, along with the film’s title, are also key in making the outcome of the story seem preordained. We know from the get-go that Fontaine will escape; Bresson, an intensely process-oriented director, shifts the suspense away from “what will happen” and onto “how it will happen.”

The Penitent Magdalen by Georges de la Tour:

One of Bresson’s maxims was to “replace an image with a sound whenever possible.” This strategy can be seen many times throughout A Man Escaped and is employed for different reasons. At the film’s beginning, we see a Nazi prison guard dragging his keys along the railing of a stairway. We never see the image again but Bresson has already established a shortcut method of communicating to the audience by allowing us to merely hear the sound throughout the rest of the movie when he wants to indicate the guard is near. Conversely, at the end of the film, Bresson builds suspense by allowing us to hear a squeaking noise several minutes before revealing its origin: another guard riding a bicycle in circles around the prison’s outer walls.

The use of non-diegetic music (i.e., that which cannot be heard by the film’s characters) is also fascinating in A Man Escaped. Bresson repeatedly uses Mozart’s Mass in C Minor to score the action onscreen, although he uses this music in a drastically different way than the typical film director. Bresson never uses music to manipulate the viewer emotionally but for rhythmic and thematic purposes instead; Mass in C Minor, for instance, is played every time Fontaine makes contact with a fellow prisoner for the first time or learns a new piece of information that will help him escape. The viewer therefore becomes aware, even if only on a subconscious level, that all of these scenes are somehow linked thematically. After repeated viewings, it is easy to see that Bresson is underlining how important it is for Fontaine to trust his fellow prisoners in order for his plan of escape to work.

Unlike their release of French Cancan, Gaumont’s Blu-ray of A Man Escaped is not based on newly restored film elements. Consequently, it does not provide as dramatic of an upgrade in terms of sound and image quality over previous DVDs. However, it is definitely still an upgrade, with a wonderful transfer providing much more film-like characteristics such as increased depth and grain. I consider both of these discs essential and am very pleased to have them in my library. I am also intensely curious to see what else Gaumont may have in the pipeline; I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Louis Feuillade box set.

A Man Escaped original poster art:

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

37 responses to “Sacre Blu!

  • suzidoll

    There is a Louis Feuillade Fantomas box set from Kino, released in September but not on Blu-ray. And, here’s my expertise in the French language — ooo-la-la.

  • michaelgloversmith

    I got the Fantomas DVD set, which is great. I was more wishfully thinking something along the lines of a massive blu-ray box set all of Feuillades most esteemed serials: Fantomas, Les Vampires, Judex and the never-released in the U.S. on any format Tih Minh. One must dream!

  • The Poetic Realism of Jean Renoir « White City Cinema

    […] Jean Renoir is the most famous and critically renowned of all the great French directors who have been lumped together under the difficult-to-define umbrella term of “Poetic Realism.” In contrast to silent French film movements like Impressionism and Surrealism (both of which can be considered avant-garde or non-narrative), Poetic Realism, which flowered in the early sound era, integrated poetic, non-narrative innovations into the conventions of narrative continuity filmmaking. The end result was a cycle of films that took some of the aesthetic concerns of those earlier movements and wedded them to traditional movie realism in a way that exhibits a socially conscious perspective while simultaneously remaining accessible to mainstream audiences. The Rules of the Game, released in 1939, is the most famous of all Poetic Realist films and is widely considered one of the greatest movies ever made. It also represented the end of the first phase of Jean Renoir’s career. It was banned by the French government shortly after its initial release (a ban maintained by the Nazis when their occupation of France began), causing Renoir to flee to America where he worked for the better part of a decade. Upon returning to Europe in the early fifties he would be a very different type of director and would make very different (though in many ways equally wonderful) types of films. […]

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  • audreyilee

    Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped” (1956) and his “essentialist” mise-en-scene of telling Lieutenant Fontaine’s memoir was novel and intriguing. We went over in class how all of the actors “have been rigorously trained to recite their lines in flat, neutral tones.” I thought about why he did this and I think it’s because he wanted the actors to be a part of the story, albeit an essential part, but not necessarily the remembered “faces” of it. The environment in which the story unfolds, inside a prison, provides the viewers with enough context as do the actors. What is interesting to me is that because the essentialist qualities transcended throughout the film, it was difficult to recall specific scenes that summed up the film which is something that I’m able to do easily with other films. This supports the success of Bresson’s approach to film-making. He gathered only what was essential to the story which was everything the film included from beginning to end.

    I also found his dedication of the use of the 50mm lens camera interesting. Since the lens is most similar to how the human eye sees, I felt like a bystander, standing just close enough to watch as the story unfolded. This was a much different experience than I had while watching Dreyer’s “The Passion of the Joan of Arc.” His extensive use of extreme close-up shots gave no space between the viewer and the actors which resulted in relentless tension throughout the whole film. Bresson instead used a variety of camera movement and composition, specifically fragments of the actors’ body parts and controlled the movement of our eyes from one scene to the next with purpose.

    This method was appropriate and successful because we see the real world around us in fragments. Our eyes gravitate towards what interests us and ignore the rest. One of the ways Bresson did this takes place at the beginning of the film where Fontaine, along with two other men, are sitting inside a car on their way to prison. At first, the camera focuses on his cuff-free hands and then follows his hand that reaches for the door handle a few times until they come to a stop and he darts out the car. This uncut, continuous scene guided my eyes to visualize Fontaine’s inner, cognitive process. From the very beginning of the film, Bresson prepares us to pay attention the subtleties of the actors’ movements as well as the use of sound as clues to follow the story.

    The film did not have obvious visualizations such as a person crying or laughing to induce emotions, but the element of sound played a key role in the way I experienced empathy and suspense. Fontaine’s inner dialogue takes us into his mind and because of this, I had more empathy for him than other inmates. The focused and isolated qualities of his inner dialogues also reflected his single-mindedness and steadfastness. Another interesting use of sound was his application of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor in moments of obtaining new information or making connections with his fellow inmates. I thought this was effective because once I recognized the pattern, I was able to use the sound as a cue that Fontaine was one step closer to escaping. These auditory clues kept me attentive throughout the whole film.

    I was challenged by Bresson’s novel approach to film as one that is pure and straight-forward; unaffected by faces of famous actors and dramatic sounds that may blemish the story and distract the viewers (as movies without a strong story might do?). “A Man Escaped” made me an attentive and, in a way, a more intelligent viewer because it required me to pay attention in ways that I was not used to.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for this detailed reply. I think you are correct that we “see the world in fragments” and also that Bresson guides us to “visualize Fontaine’s inner cognitive process.” These are just two of the reasons why Bresson’s approach works so well.

  • Pouya

    A Man Escaped is a phenomenal docudrama film created by Robert Bresson, who was a painter and director. He actually painted his films with the camera, in his films human body is an important element and he tries to show the details of the body.

    One of the important elements in this film is sound that used perfectly, Bresson gives us some information by using sound without showing anything. For example, in the prison when the guard is dragging his keys along the railing of a stairway or in the other scene we hear children are playing or a train is passing.

    The other important element in this film is cinematography; Bresson used only one lens in this film, which is 50mm, in most of the scenes camera is fixed and we see some slow movements such as pan and tilt. The cinematographer used low-key lighting to increase the tension when he is escaping,

    Audience should go to Bresson’s world and enjoy his film, without thinking about logical issues that we don’t see in this film.

  • Renae Davison

    Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped” is a driven film about one man’s determination to do what most of the other inmates were thinking about in that Nazi prison, that was escaping. Lt. Fontaine spent virtually every waking moment working out the means of his escape. When he realized a way to use a metal spoon that he withheld after eating his meal as a carving tool, he used it to loosen the panels in his cell door, that took him a month to do. One of the prisoners asked what Lt. Fontaine’s plan was and after reading it said it was too much work for him. But Lt. Fontaine would not give up. He worked steadily looking at each obstacle that stood in his way and figured out a way to get around it. After Lt. Fontaine found out that the man in the cell next to him, Blanchard, tried to kill himself he had a talk with him through their outside windows that he should “fight anyway”. He never gave up hope and neither should we when we face obstacles in our lives.
    The director Robert Bresson has an essentialist mise-en-scene. The story was about how a very determined man escapes from a Nazi prison. Bresson only focuses on the details related to that. In other escape from prison movies you see all these extra scenes like courtroom drama and fights among fellow prisoners which, when you think about it, is really unnecessary filler. The way Bresson focuses on just the essential actors, particularly on their hands and faces adding to this essentialist mood that is felt throughout the film. When Lt. Fontaine is weaving the material with the wire taken from his bed frame, there is a close-up of just his hands weaving the materials. I was thinking “how is he going to do this?” Director Bresson felt that was all we needed to see at that moment. When Lt. Fontaine was worried about getting caught while preparing for his escape we got a close-up of his fearful eyes. I thought Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” was spellbinding with the close-ups of Joan’s fearful eyes but then I saw “A Man Escaped” that changed. Even though you know how the film is going to end it didn’t make the film less exciting. This is realism at it’s best.
    When I saw this film I thought here is a man who no matter what happened to him he would not give up his plan of getting out of prison. He had two choices, to die at the hands of Nazi guards or to escape. He had family and friends, as alluded to in the film, to get back to so he chose the later. “A Man Escapes” personifies that no matter what happens to us we must have courage and determination not give up on our dreams.

  • Awais

    In this movie ”A man escaped” in 1956 by Robert Bresson. The set of location was just amazing indoor and outdoor. The mise of actors and custom also the make up was incredible. The lighting of the movie was low key and high key. It was just well done how each one of them perfome in their each scenes. The camera angles were super amaze and the lenses were wide also zoomed enough. Camera movements were extremely great it felt like its real ordinary talking. I honestly love this movie because how it was done and each one of them did their Part very well. Each one of the scene was interesting and heart touching. Because when he was breaking the door from the bottom I thought they would catch him but he was very smart and brave to communicate with his neighbors. The sound effect was real loud and we’ll played threw out the move. Overall it was just great and I’m going to watch it again with the family.

  • Kirun Haque

    Robert Bresson’s film, A Man Escaped (1956) is one of the most interesting, intense, and suspenseful film I’ve seen in a long time. From the very beginning of the film I was intrigued and immediately engaged by the film. It usually takes me awhile to get interested to a film, but for this film it the first scene got me asking a lot questions. I wanted to know why Fontaine wasn’t handcuffed inside a car and the other guys with him were handcuffed to each other. Also, in the first scene is the first time Bresson showed how obsessed Fontaine was about escaping the Nazi prison. The opening scene was a close-up shot of Fontaine hands on his knee and he moves one hand and turns the door handle with his pinky finger. This shows that Fontaine was immediately planning his escape and dying wasn’t an option. I found it interesting that he wasn’t panicking or about being caught by the Nazis. If I was in Fontaine’s position, my first thought would be “Oh shit, it’s game over. I’m done.” It was clear that Fontaine would focus only on escaping and nothing else.

    I could see the essentialism in this film because Fontaine saw opportunities that other people wouldn’t see in the prison. For example, the Fontaine used a metal spoon to scrape the wooden door until it broke. That idea probably would have never crossed my mind. Another opportunity I would have never seen would probably using the bed springs as a sewing material for the blankets and clothes.

    I liked Bresson’s idea of if you can hear something then don’t show it. It makes the audience feel like they are one of the prisoners. Which is true, I heard and seen most things that only a prisoner would hear and see. Like you said in the reading, in the beginning of the film there was a guard dragging his keys on stairs’ railings. Later in the film, you could only hear the guards’ keys being dragged on the railings to show that the guards are near by. Also, at some point in the film you could hear children playing, which shows that there is probably a school or a playground near by.

    During the escape, I was on the edge of my seat because it seemed like there was chance that Fontaine and his cellmate was going to get caught. Then I remember during the lecture we learned that title of this film literally tells you what happens in the film. So I thought that his cellmate, Francois Jost, was going to die because the title of the film is A Man Escaped not The Men Escaped…but I thought wrong.

    Also, I like to throw in that it never crossed my mind once that there were non-professional actors in this film.

  • Jamie Wright

    Let me just say, before I start discussing these two films, that I have never watched any films past the 1960s and not from other countries. Therefore being able just to be a part of this class so far has been incredible! I have enjoyed every second and the past two weeks have been an absolute treat! It is incredibly hard for me to choose which film was my favorite, but if I have to, it would be French Cancan. I adored all of the color, music, dancing, and particular type of comedy of the film. It touched my heart, made me dance a little in my seat, and now I’m quite upset that I can not touch my toes still. I agree that the use of Technicolor makes a massive difference. It focuses deeply on the primary colors and bringing imagination to life. I appreciated the comedy of trying to keep track of which character was in love with who and which one was cheating on who. I had to sit back in my seat and laugh, particularly in the comparison of American film which just recently is starting to use more nudity and sexual situations but honestly not really when confronted with French film

    Do not worry, though, I did not forget about A Man Escaped! I was on the edge of my seat. Bresson did a fantastic job of making the audience feel like they were right in the prison with Fontaine. Many questions came up of whether or not another character was executed, what happened to his first neighbor, and how he was going to escape. The beauty of this film is that there were no loud noises or sudden loud bangs. It was very realistic by keeping quiet. If there was a “loud” noise, it was probably just at a normal tone, but since the rest of the film was so quiet our hearing was heightened. To be able to get this level of response from his audience without the use of intense acting proves that Bresson is a real genius and understands how to push film in the right direction. A Man Escaped showed me that I do not need to have the full story told to me right up front. It is important to put a little work into understanding the story, to feel what it was like to be in the character’s shoes. Both films brought together my two favorite emotions happiness and anticipation. Well done France!

    • michaelgloversmith

      So glad to hear that you are open-minded about watching films from other countries and other eras. I’m also glad you wrote about both films. I have a feeling THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT, which we’re watching in two weeks, is really going to be up your alley.

  • James Hrajnoha

    I would first like to say that your “One of Bresson’s maxims was to “replace an image with a sound whenever possible.”” was very accurate of what I saw in A Man Escaped and when you mentioned it in class made me listen closely to the film to see if i could spot maybe a subtle play of it. But reading your blog does give me even more insight into these two films but piques my interest into A Man Escaped even more so. One such thing as the fact of the neutral tone dialogue with the bland walls of the prison. It even goes so far as to make it feel even more real and true as if they had filmed these moments back then. A truly breathtaking experience I hope to hear more of as we go on.

  • Andrea G

    Jean Renoir’s, French Cancan and Robert Bresson’s, A Man Escaped were both two very visually appealing and compelling films made in the 1950`s. After watching both films, there is no doubt that both directors were painters. Along with how visually appealing both films looked, they also shared the same concept of introducing a character with an issue and having them succeed in the end.
    It was hard to distinguish which film I enjoyed the most, knowing that both Renoir and Bresson used different techniques of filmmaking that worked best in their film. However, my heart does lean more towards French Cancan. Renoir`s film was just so much fun. It excited you and had you moving in your seats. It sure had me bounce around in my seat. What made the film really stand out to me though, was the end finale scene. It was an absolute work of art, so visually appealing, and beautiful.
    Robert Bresson also created a spectacular film. Even though we knew from the beginning that the main character, Lieutenant Fontaine was going to escape, it was still as suspenseful and nail bitting as it would be if we were left open ended. Just like in Renoir`s film, Bresson also created appealing work on screen. Although, Bresson focused more on a minimalist, soft look rather than vibrant colors. What I also found interesting was Bresson`s use of sound. He believed that the ear was more creative than the eye. Throughout the film we would hear certain noises and find out what it was later on. I like this concept because it mixes suspense with curiosity together and I like the thought of imagine and sound trading off. Another thing that I enjoyed about Bresson was that everything was very realistic, including the acting. Bresson had his actors say their lines with no emotion. However, this works well with the setting and characters.
    Overall, both films were exceptional and definitely worth another watch.

  • Andres Merlos

    Both of these directors had very distinct visions of their work.
    Renoir loved to express his work with colors and to capture a painting in motion. French Cancan was bright and colorful. It had you jumping out of your seat wanting to cancan with the dancers. Renoir pieced the story greatly as well. He showed us the life of many people, and how they are all connected. As well, the unique and crafty characters. For example the one man that is always causing Paulo to go off. As well for Maria Felix’s character Lola, she brings that intensity to the film, for she is always hostile when it comes to Henri. Overall, Renoir was ahead of his time, and he brought color to life on the screen. The dancing,the music, it was like Remoir wanted you to come to his party and hope that you had a ball!
    As for Bresson, he kept the viewer attentive to the minor details he instilled throughout the film, for example the sound of the key banging against the railing or his precision to detail(ex. when he tied the metal railing on the bed sheet,and explained the whole process in detail.)
    Bresson made these memoirs of the man who escaped come to life in his film, and built the suspense through every sound and detail. Another example that shows Bresson attention to detail is the three men that came to Fontaine with gifts, to help him during tough times. We later noticed a few scenes later that the men are gone. We don;t know what happened to them, but we assume they were either caught and shot or they stayed away for their safety. These little details made everything feel like we were part of the era,and even trapped in the prison with Fontaine. I agree that Bresson is one of the greatest film makers of all time.

  • Ryan Robinson

    Robert Bresson’s “A Man Escaped” is an interesting take on the prison-escape genre of movies. Bresson use of mise-escene includes non-professional actors who speak with little emotion and limited facial expression, which gives more realistic feel, to the film. The way Bresson uses the camera angles to focus more on the character’s body parts gives the viewer more insight on the character’s action, and understanding on Fontaine’s obsession to escape from the Nazi prison. By using the use of sound to tell the audience that the guard is near by, rather then show it every single time, it helps adds an element of intensity and suspense to Bresson’s film. Bresson also keeps the set design straightforward and uncomplicated so as to not confuse the audience with huge set pieces.

  • Ninos

    ”A man escaped” in 1956 by Robert Bresson” word can’t describe the movie until you actually get the chance and watch it. I am personally seen a brave man who actually wanted to escape since his first day at the jail. He wasn’t afraid at all. I was so afraid of this movie since the starting when he was actually in the car getting draft to the jail and he was waiting for the right moment to open the door and run away. i love how the camera was going back and forth to the driver’s face then to his hand. Bresson showed us few amazing points like how we mentioned those in class, where the guard has his keys touching the stairs handles every time goes up and it did help him to manage his time working on his tools for escaping. From the beginning of the film till the end the atmosphere of the movie made me nervous, it fit perfect for the pictures and the camera view, and i am sure that was the point for Bresson to show us in real life back then with Nazis. Over all i did enjoy the film a lot and the ending was full of joy and made a big smile on my face.

    French Cancan is a great movie by Jean Renoir, there were some point in the movie where it actually showed us French tradition back in 1954 and i feel like french might have some small villages still holding the tradition in some points. It would be interesting source to find out. Like we mentioned in the class that the actors were so wide open to each others and everything happens, most of people knows about it. The way they were dancing and the theater had back then made me feel like i want to be there and join their dance. Great atmosphere made me laugh, and be romantic. Great job for Jean Renoir for having beautiful women (actors) in the movie.

  • 5pecialag3ntc00per

    Andrew Moran
    sorry I wrote something really cool and it all god deleted because… computers am i right?… hoo boy so here’s take 2!

    • 5pecialag3ntc00per

      Robert Bresson’s 1956 film masterpiece, “A Man Escaped” is truly the best film to contrast “French Cancan” with. They’re almost polar opposites in terms of story-telling, and can really only be compared on their bare objective quality (both films being great). Renoir’s “French Cancan” is a wonderful mix of Hollywood spectacle and surrealism contrasting the large Hollywood style production, and plot structure with a film that so subtly observes and indulges in its nature. There are moments in the film that are incredibly self-referential, most notably the self proclaimed “Greek Chorus” character, Casimir. He follows one of the main characters around constantly singing and dancing confusing the audience and those around him to believe that this film is a musical. It is an incredibly complex film, there are so many love triangles and love affairs it gets confusing but afterall this is the same man who made “The Rules of the Game”(1939).
      Bresson’s film is the polar opposite. The set of “A Man Escaped” is gray. Pure gray. The actors long for an escape from their prison that has made them just as lifeless and stark as their surroundings are. Nothing is there that is unnecessary, every character, every object, every scene has purpose. The film itself is the prison, a position that is both captivating and unsettling for the audience. It is a fantastic piece of cinema by absolute virtue of the fact that this film could not have been accomplished with any other medium. It may be perfection, if such a concept could truly exist.

  • annesmith2016

    Robert Bresson’s film ‘A man escaped” is about a french lieutenant Fontaine who is in a german prison during the Nazi time period. Throughout the film you see Fontaine think strategically how to escape from this jail. He has to learn to trust his jail mates around him to get where he needs to go. Not to mention his new cell member where he has to decide if he is going to be apart of this escape. He has to think clearly and precise to successfully get out.
    Bresson was what you call an essentialist. He only put what he felt was absolutely needed on camera. Everything you see on screen is relevant and has specific meaning and use. With that, Bresson uses sound intensely throughout the film. Instead of seeing a lot of the things going on you spend a lot of time hearing what is not being shown. This creates this reminder in you head over time what each sound relates to without actually seeing it. His films are simple to the eye but has you mind aware and focused on what is going to happen.
    Overall, although the title gave away the ending Bresson keeps you suspended. Wondering what is going to happen, if he will make it. He creates this intense atmosphere keeping you tied into the film till the end.

  • Jim Alexander

    French Cancan and A Man Escaped are two very different films, but each has a flare to it. I was surprised how a movie that literally all of it centered on a escape could be captivating from start to end. What makes that movie so compelling is that it might be the most detailed escape movie ever. It’s incredibly detailed and meticulous. The viewer is taken on step-by-step journey as Fontaine grinds his way out of the prison. I enjoyed how realistic it felt, how he was scrubbing away the door with that fork, it was also portrayed in a very smart way. The character collects the debris he created with the fork, just so the prison guards aren’t made aware that something suspicious is occurring. From start to finish Renoir does a fantastic job of keeping the film consistent.

    The French Cancan is a lot more visually vibrant than the dark, black and white A Man Escaped. The colors of the movie are uniquely bright and have a nostalgic feel to it. The dance routines are choreographed so perfectly. The last big dance at the end of the film, is so fine tuned by the elaborate with all the dancing and things happening on-screen, that it’s hard to keep up. Henri Danglard played by Jean Gabin, has such strong on-screen presence. He’s completely in control of his business and makes you pay attention to him. Nina and Lola are two very different, yet fitting female characters that surround Danglard and cater to his business minded side (Lola) and the emotional one (Nina). It’s a visually appealing movie, with a quite provocative narrative for those times.

  • Ryan Gradishar

    I found Robert Bresson’s film “A Man Escaped” very enjoyable to watch. The way he was able to strip his actors down to only read their lines without any facial expressions and no emotion I found to be very refreshing. Along with that the use of the camera gave you a feel like you where actually there with him because you only could see whatever he saw along with only hearing what he heard. By doing this Bresson never shows you a shot that you don’t need to see, or no filler shots. Every shot moves the story along and is exactly as long as he wants you to see it.

  • Harrison Langlois

    Jean Renoir’s film “French Cancan” is a spectacular sight. Viewers are bombarded with color and story from the very start. Each of the movies characters adds something new, whether it be Maria Felix fiery personality, Jean Gabins spirit, or Philippe Clay’s(Casimir) songs he so suddenly bursts into. Before hand we were told that this film was as French as they get, this was no understatement. The clothes the characters wore, the way they talked, even the random instances of nudity all screamed France, and I loved it. The most important aspect of the film however had to be it’s humanist element. After all Jean Renoir was renowned for his use of humanism. Albeit at first I feared that this film had it’s black and white characters. Henri and Nini where the good guys, and Lola and the investors were the bad guys who wanted to stop them. It was only until after prince Alexander’s attempted suicide do we see everyone drop their differences and decide to work together to make the Moulin Rouge a reality. The film’s finally gets it right, not only is it fun and exciting and gives the audience what they want, they don’t end it to soon. It almost seems almost to long, in a good way. The cancan is seen in all it’s glory, and not spoiled what so ever before hand. “French Cancan” is all it’s chalked up to be. I recommend it to all.

  • Alishah Rizvi

    Robert Bresson’s, “A Man Escaped” of 1956 was a tremendous film. It was filled with tons of thriller and suspense that had me on the edge of my seat. Although the title of the film makes it quite obvious of what will happen at the end however, while watching the film I was scared that Lt. Fontaine will get caught. Bresson really did an excellent job of keeping the suspense flowing throughout the film. There was no dull or boring moments that didn’t keep me interested. What really highlighted the film with such fame was the fact that Fontaine was using all these different types of amazing techniques to find his way out of prison, adding Bresson’s choice of strong background music.

    I personally believe what it takes for a film to be a success is to truly have great actors and François Leterrier was just the right man for the role of Lt. Fontaine. His acting made me feel like I was present in the prison with him. What really kept me interested in the film was all the different ways and plans that Fontaine came up with trying to escape. Fontaine was so obsessed from escaping prison that he would use anything he saw to use as tools to escape. He used objects like, a spoon to use as a scrapper, clothes and bed wires to create a rope and etc..He was brilliant and sharp minded and his ideas were brilliant as well, all these ideas wouldn’t even cross an average person’s mind.

    In addition to Bresson’s brilliant film-making ideas, his use of strong background music was another overpowering factor of the film’s success. His excellent choice of classical Mozart music, playing in the background really enhanced the visual aspects of the film. He uses religious-type of music to link the sequences together which underscores the idea that Fontaine needs to trust the people around him in order for his escape plan to work. Also, the sound of the train passing by was sort of a heads-up for the audience that Fontaine was going to do something big or follow through his plan.

    I personally enjoyed this film a lot, and I wish to see more of these types films in the future. Directors today should really incorporate Bresson’s ideas into their films as a guideline to a successful film.

  • osmar

    At first i sided with american critics who did not like Jean Renoir’s French Cancan as his other two films The Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion. It felt different there were less darker themes as his two most famous films and there was less comedic moments as there were in Rules of the Game.the cinematography and colors as well as the final dance sequence were probably the best parts of the film. as you look closer at French Cancan you can see elements of his previous films in there. Just as in Rules of the Game there are no bad or good characters, everyone is mixed. Danglard, one of the main characters has good qualities like when he allowed the clown to perform solo with his talent whistling. On the other hand, he is a womanizer who cheats and uses deception to get ahead. another huge element is the split in the film’s story.in both French Cancan and Rules of the game there is a production going on.In Rules of the Game its the stage party during the mansion while in French Cancan there are multiple stage productions ending with a huge one at the opening of the Moulin rouge. in both films the productions fit well in the bigger narrative of the films. French Cancan is a more optimistic version of what we are used to in a Renoir film but all the elements are there. Renoir as a humanist loves all his characters and shows it well in French Cancan as he did in Rules of the Game.

  • Nick Forgione

    Jean Renoir’s, “French CanCan” is a film about everything that goes into making a piece of art. This process is portrayed through the eyes of many different colorful characters, with the main character being the director Henri Danglar. Danglar is played by Jean Gabin, and before we watched this film you gave us a pretense to who Jean was comparing him to Humphrey Bogart in American cinema. I could not agree with that analysis more. Humphrey Bogart was never really bigger than his films, yet he commanded the screen. I get the exact same feeling from Jean Gabin in “French CanCan”. Gabin’s character, Danglar, is pivotal to progressing the narrative, yet the whole film does not revolve around him. We get large chunks of the film from Nini’s, a dancer for Danglar, point of view. Another dancer Lola and Nini’s former lover Paolo have their own point of view in the film. All of these characters’ perspectives are essential to the story, and each one brings their own brilliant flair to the movie. However, going back to my point that Danglar’s role does not envelop the whole film but his presence and actions certainly dominate your attention. Danglar seems to be operating on a different wavelength than the rest of the cast. He is responsible for finding the talent of his show, producing the content, and raising money for his production. In order to do all that in such a brilliant fashion as Danglar, you have to be somewhat of an eccentric person. Danglar draws the love from multiple women and doesn’t reciprocate. This is a focal point of the story. Nini becomes enraged that she left Paolo and dismissed Alexander for Danglar, and Danglar finds another mistress that sings in his production. When Nini shuts herself away from the world, Danglar really shows why his brain is running on a different frequency than most others. He explains and yells at Nini that all he does in his life is for his art, he puts everything he has into his work including his love life, and he tells her that he is angry not because their romance has taken a hit but because she is quitting on the show. Danglar takes peoples’ sincere worries and makes them out to be nothing in his mind. All that matters is the show.
    I loved this film because the narrative was so intriguing. Danglar and Lola were easily my favorite characters because they were so jaded and compelling. Their personalities with the compliment of the rest of the cast made this experience thoroughly enjoyable.

  • Niko Pappas

    Jean Renoir’s French Cancan tells the story of the cancan’s revival and construction of the Moulin Rouge nightclub. Henri Danglard, the bachelor founder and “talent scout” was the perfect candidate to make the cancan’s come back possible, he knew how to make things happen. The Moulin Rouge was purchased solely on friendship and he made his dancers feel special. The film focuses mainly on Nini, a young town girl who caught Danglard’s eye, and devoted behavior. I absolutely adored Nini, she was enthusiastic to help Danglard establish the club and determined to premier that cancan on time. From Lola and her jealous scrawl during the club’s construction to Paulo forbidding Nini to dance, it took Prince Alexander’s attempted suicide to let everyone forget their differences and help each other. An example of Renoir’s humanitarian influence, self harm brought everyone to their senses and help each other. Renoir also used Technicolor, which suited the glamorous and extravagant cancan by oversaturating colors. This effect coupled with perfect casting delivered a wonderful film. Also not revealing the cancan until the official premier allowed me to feel the excitement the crowd felt. The reveal was long but well deserved. Watching the obstacles Danglard and Nini faced and all the hostility from Lola and Paulo made their success even sweeter.

  • aleediaz57

    Although both films were fantastic, I am going to talk about Jean Renoir’s “French Cancan”. My favorite aspect of the movie was definitely the beautiful colors that jumped out at me. Everything about the cancan dance- the dresses, the moves, the music- is colorful, which makes the Technicolor perfect for this film.
    We discussed the fact that Renoir was a “humanist”, which was shown in this film. I truly appreciated the character development that went on, especially with Lola. She started out as a bitter, jealous, devious b-word who seemed to only care about herself. Later on, when Alexander shot himself, she started to apologize and admit that anger brought out the worst in her. I thought this was a turning point in her relationship with all the other characters- especially Nini. From that moment on, Lola turned into this intelligent, kind woman. I also enjoyed watching Nini go from a poor laundry girl to a confident French cancan dancer. All the characters went through a full cycle and they all seemed to set aside their differences and either work together or come to terms with the fact that they could not be with the one they loved (Paolo with Nini and Nini with Danglar).
    One of the most important scenes in this movie, in my opinion, was when Danglar gave Nini the speech about the realities of this business and the way he is. His honesty and the tough love he gave her were spot-on- and effective! She sucked it up and joined all the girls in the French Cancan, which was breathtaking and had me dancing in my seat. Overall this film gets 5 starts in my book and I strongly recommend it.

  • Asim Arshad

    I really enjoyed watching the movie A Man Escaped. The title of the movie gave away the fact that he would escape in the end but Robert Bresson did such a good job of keeping the suspense up in the movie. There was never a dull moment. I really thought at a couple of points in the movie that he was going to get caught. Another thing I liked about the movie was the fact that he used nonprofessional actors in the movie.
    In this movie the camera lens that was used was close to how the human eye sees. This caused the feeling of me being in the action and it felt as if I was a by stander watching everything happen in front of my eyes. Robert Bresson used frequent close ups showing fragments of the human body. He also used voice over narration and the way he used sound to cause suspense was amazing. The use of keys on the rail was amazing.
    When the boy is put in his cell Fontaine’s first thought is he will have to kill him. In the end he doesn’t kill him and he is actually able to escape in a way that he couldn’t possibly have done alone.

  • Lucas Yun

    I happen to enjoy both movies based on their presentations and themes since they’re highly contrasting in approach. You have French Cancan, where it is going towards the “behind the scenes” direction, taking the viewer through a part of a long story of a man hoping to redeem his wealth through the spark of an inspiration brought onto him from a girl he has never seen nor met. I do agree that the colours just makes this movie on its own level of detail and atmosphere that someone like me just can’t simply describe it properly.

    On the other hand, you got “A Man Escaped” where the tensity and the frustration that the movie was putting on the viewer was just immense, yet kept the viewer’s attention. Even though I’ve watched lots of movies and films that have this kind of intensity, this was probably THE MOST intense of them all. There is no music, which really enhances the experience; the camera is always close by, making it seem like the viewer is actually a part of the escape plan; and with the fact that this is more “first person” than “third person” really causes the viewer to constantly think about what’s going to happen.

    I’d have to say that “A Man Escaped” caught my attention the most. Not because it’s a thriller escape film, but the fact that it followed a sort of log written by the escapee or a person that had known the escapee. It was very detailed about the actions and what was going on, which really made each and every scene very clear.

  • Joe Jackson

    Sorry to have gotten this in so late, had various other things to attend to.

    Okay…time to explain myself, I made it very clear that I wasn’t a fan of “A Man Escaped”…at all. I know that I’m a minority here but I must say and I will say it loudly, I hate “A Man Escaped”. Let me tell you for why though, this movie represents all I despise with cinema.

    One thing that the director did was strip all the characters of emotions and facial expressions, relying solely on dialogue. I hate this trend in cinema being done by people like Christopher Nolan, M. Knight Shayamalan and others. The job of the actor is to add a level of interpretation of their own to the performance. A director can give them ideas and pointers, but sometimes an actor’s performance can make a movie. Films such as “The Passion of Joan of Arc” are masterpieces because the lead actor’s performance almost becomes the world, you see every emotion in their soul. However, the director’s I mentioned in recent years had begun to strip actor’s of that and solely make them exposition and philosophy spewing puppets. Shayamalan took one of the charismatic Will Smith and made him turn in a completely lifeless performance. Nolan took actors such as Leonardo Dicaprio, Ken Watanabe and more and had them perform as the equivalent of text to speech programs. The director does the same, the actors are nothing more than exposition machines or emphasizing how bad things are. Oh, but not in a way that implies dread or danger, no, instead they have the emotion of someone who just burned scrambled eggs. The one time where our lead actor mentally breaks down is so jarring that I actually laughed when I first saw it, but I shouldn’t have, it was the only emotion in the movie.

    One defense I head that is usually used to describe the movie is “minimalist”. Whenever I hear the term “minimalist” I have to shake my head in disappointment at the fact that someone seriously tried to use that as a defense. It’s an excuse often used by fools to get around criticism of cheapness. This film does not feel like a prison, it feels like some cheap motel. Production values aren’t everything (Some of my favorite TV shows or movies have some hilariously awful effects) but even with low budgets, film makers can still have something that feels like a world of it’s own. The Japanese version of The Ring is very subdued in visuals yet is one of the scariest movies ever made. Worse than fools who say their “work” is minimalist are the fools who buy it and pay a thousand dollars for a red dot on a canvas or say this http://i.cdn.turner.com/asfix/repository//8a25c3920e1ded1c010e1edb838d0052/12oz_ep001_06.jpg is high art television.

    All the stale dialogue and slow pacing reminds me of the works of Coleman Francis. A director infamous for cheap sets, slow pacing, robotic acting and such. The difference there is that Coleman’s films got the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” treatment where Joel and the bots gave them some of show’s harshest riffing. The only defense of the film is the sound design which uses sound effects rather cleverly at times, such as muting a murder with the sound of a train passing by.

    As for transcendence…well it tries to transcend reality with the performances but really comes off more like a direct to TV movie than something that transcends films. French Cancan made me feel like I was at the climax, I learned the stories of all the people involved with the Moulin Rouge. French Cancan is the opposite of this film as the acting ,editing, directing, music, sound and such leap off the screen and you see and hear the effort put into it. This film however is every bad college and high school art film I’ve ever seen. The fact that someone mocked Shawshank Redemption at the end angers me. Say what you will about it’s accuracy but Shawshank at least had characters, there was tension, it was heartbreaking, this film has none of that. If that was the director’s intension than I have to question why. Why on earth would you want to sink to the depths normally reserved for Lifetime Original Movies?

    In my opinion, film is the largest form of entertainment medium possible as every person has a job to create and interpret the movie. From the actors, directors, editors, writers, cinematographers, costume designers, sound designers, composers, everyone has a place. This film throws that all away in favor of a single, directionless purpose.

    I hated this movie and I hate what it represents in film.

  • Kitty Richardson

    Spiritual is the first word that comes to my mind when I think about viewing “A Man Escaped”. The film does have scenes where the bible is referenced, inmates quickly trade pieces of paper with verses to each other while shaving, but that’s not really the reason why I associate it with the spiritual. Robert Bresson’s style is minimalistic and it pairs up well with the circumstances Lt. Fontaine finds himself in. Fontaine narrates in the past tense over what we are seeing, saying upon his first morning in the prison “I made a show…Did I owe my life to this deception?”, and we cut back and forth between blank faces and close ups of limbs that belie a character’s true emotions and intentions. Viewers are almost forced to obsessively search for clues in order to orient themselves. While escaping from the prison with Jost, Fontaine narrates “I restrained the beating of my heart.” The whole film is an exercise in restraint. Mozart blasts over each new connection Fontaine makes because like Fontaine the audience is being starved and we survive off each breadcrumb allocated to us, shifting eyes, two inmates making eye contact, a twitching hand reaching for a door handle etc. A need, a yearning is created so that even when Jost and Fontaine keep their deception up as they walk away into the night the relief and satisfaction is so great you can’t help but project a small skip into their step. I believe one of the inmates says “He’ll save us when we let him” when the inmates discuss God and thus is the spiritual, or rather how I view the spiritual, unending faith in the face of adversity and overwhelming thankfulness for whatever is given, even if you earned it.
    On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is “French Cancan.” Jean Renoir’s film about the Moulin Rouge’s origin brings one huge and colorful word to mind; Indulgent. Every single character does the absolute most, not just in the scenes where they are performing, but every. single. scene. In a city full of cheating and backstabbing partnerships and bad business it’s surprising but there are no secrets. It is made clear upon the first visit to the White Queen that Lola and Danglard both sleep with others and that they don’t’ trust their friends. Nini has three love interests and all of them know about one another! And when Nini finds out about Esther there is no suspense leading up to it. Each character expresses their current emotions to the strongest and most dramatic degree possible, often acting outlandishly and starting scenes such as the incredible riot Lola starts when she suspects Danglard’s sleeping with Nini. “French Cancan” is very theatrical not only in that aspect but that the shots are somewhat set up like a stage, facing straight on often with the whole body head to toe in frame and characters talking in profile. The size of the cast is enjoyable and while there might not be room for introspection on part of each character it causes some very enjoyable snippy and sassy dialogue to result. The goals and moods of the character’s change with the wind, Nini even saying that she felt as though ten years had passed since she stopped being a laundress, but the one constant seems to be not to fret too much and enjoy the party before you. At the end when we finally see the cancan, the camera cuts from Nini’s smiling face as she performs to Danglard’s, to Paulo’s, to even the orchestra conductors as they too smile temporarily forgetting their troubles at the sight of such splendor.

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