Precious Bodily Fluids

A Man Escaped: Manual Labor

Just some notes at the outset. It’s quite easy to see the influence of Dostoyevsky and Robinson Crusoe in this one. The latter has to do with the film’s narrative content, focusing on a the nearly ecstatic joy that a solitary figure takes in the tedious work of survival in a world not originally his own but one that he decidedly makes his own. The late addition in A Man Escaped of the Friday figure (a la Crusoe) offers an opportunity for fellowship and causes the main character, ultimately, to admit that he probably wouldn’t have succeeded in his efforts without a companion. As for Dostoyevsky, the influence is more tonal and thematic. Such influence is seen in Robert Bresson’s other works, particularly in Pickpocket. To call the tone “cerebral” may not be quite right; “pensive” strikes more at the heart of it. Bresson’s characters are full of thoughts, as the internal narration indicates in concert with a remarkably subtle use of acting and deliberate camerawork pointing directly at physical elements in such a way as to reveal the underlying soul in them. (The thief’s hands in Pickpocket have been noted before.) In addition to Dostoyevsky’s character Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, whose sneaking around is evoked by the eventual escape in Bresson’s film, Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Tell-Tale Heart” is also recalled here. In that account, the character’s own thoughts terrify him and nearly paralyze him during a tortuously long tip-toe across some creaky floorboards. Of course, Bresson’s “man escaped” is not the would-be murderer in Dostoyevsky or in Poe – or in Bresson’s own Pickpocket. He’s not a saint, either, as in Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest; the fact that there is a priest locked up also in A Man Escaped sets our protagonist apart as someone more everyman in nature. He’s remarkable, to be sure, as no one else is quite willing to go to such lengths as he in attempting to escape, until “Friday” shows up and tags along for the ride. Paul Schrader’s book on a transcendental style in film focuses on Bresson, Ozu, and Dreyer. While the work isn’t handy at the moment, one wonders to what degree Schrader can argue that a film like A Man Escaped reaches toward a kind of so-called “transcendence.” Bresson’s films are distinctly about humanity and things exceedingly terrestrial. (He is not so different from Kieslowski in this sense, or even Tarkovsky.) A Man Escaped has very little to do directly with any notion of God. It is a humble and, as aforesaid, pensive suturing to a man who is determined to follow through with his quest for freedom. To call it a “quest” implies an epic nature that is wholly absent from the film, however. To call this film “transcendent,” one might need to argue that it “celebrates the human spirit in all its amazing potential,” or something to that effect. Still, it’s doubtful that this is a proper way of describing a film that is more an exercise in pondering rather than celebrating, and as much about the body as it is about spirit. Par exemple:

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This entry was published on July 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm. It’s filed under 1950s Cinema, French Film, Photoessays, Robert Bresson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “A Man Escaped: Manual Labor

  1. SpaceCowboyGangsterofLoveMaurice on said:

    Your photo essays are impressive, a testament to a skill in closely reading a film/text. Good stuff.

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