At times, the great French filmmaker Robert Bresson approached his work with such an austere hand, he wound up making some of the greatest films you ever slept thru. But toward the middle of his sparse output came two miracles; this fiercely observed prison break WWII story , followed by PICKPOCKET/’59, his lean, modern take on CRIME & PUNISHMENT. Shot with one of his typical non-pro casts, ÉCHAPPÉ is terse and meticulous, an all but flawless philosophical/intellectual thriller, even the poster is perfect. Often called minimalist, Bresson’s style is anything but. Rigorous gets closer to his sinewy technique, with his customary narrowed focus, used here to build tension without puffing things up in the modern manner of flashy camera moves, unnecessary cutting & Pavlovian music cues. (The only music in the film comes from snatches of Mozart’s Mass in C.) François Leterrier, as fat-free as the script and looking a bit like a young Alan Alda, is totally convincing as the prisoner with patience and a plan. And the teenaged Charles Le Clainche, a River Phoenix type, is equally fine as the kid who shows up in his cell at just the wrong time. Like the rest of the cast and crew, they seem unable to put a foot wrong, allowing Bresson to detonate his consider technique whenever he needs it, constantly tightening the suspense screws with each accumulated detail. The film is a lesson in the beauty of functionality and the thrill of expectations met.
DOUBLE-BILL: Jean-Pierre Melville’s ARMY OF SHADOWS/’69 shows what the French resistance was doing on the outside, and what they were up against.