A Man Escaped

Released: 1956

Director: Robert Bresson

Writers: Robert Bresson & Andre Devigny

Featured Actors: Francois Leterrier, Charles Le  Clainche, Maurice Beerblock




General Notes

  • Based on the actual escape of Andre Devigny
  • Unlike the Italian Neo-Realism Film makers, Bresson’s realism has a different goal: to convey the reality of the transcendent
  • The title seems to eliminate the possibility of suspense – avoiding melodramatic effects
  • The subtitle for this film is “The Spirit Blows Where it Wills”
    • Original Title “Help Yourself”
  • Unlike Diary of a County Priest (focusing upon the inner-life of the soul – instead it presents the methodical preparation and hour by hour execution of a dangerous attempt to escape

Narrative Structure

  • Bresson brings viewers to appreciate the patience & attention to detail involved in the prisoner’s planning
  • Extended moments of silence & experience of the prison routine
  • Audience gets a sense of mysterious forces that favor one prisoner over another
  • Bresson forces the public to pay attention to the reactions of only one man
    • Suspense remains – it is no longer about what is going to happen, but the passionate desire to know how a main is going to conduct himself
  • Our attention is centered on the causes, not if he will escape, but how he will escape


  • Bresson, “I wanted to achieve a great purity, a greater asceticism than in Diary of a Country Priest. This time I don’t have a single professional actor.”
  • Bresson, “On the boards [stage acting] acting adds to the real presence, intensifies it. In films, acting does away with even the semblance of real presence, and kills the illusion created by the photography.”
  • Bresson, “It would not be ridiculous to say to your models: ‘I am inventing you as you are.’”
  • Leterrier (Fontaine), “He did not want us to ever express ourselves. He made us become part of the composition of an image. We had to locate ourselves, as precisely as possible, in relation to the background, the lighting, and the camera.”

Cinematography & Staging

  • The audience never has a clear sense of the overall layout of the jail
  • Space itself is deliberately fragmented
  • Bresson never presents an overall view of the cell – we see only what Fontaine observes
  • This approach forces the spectator to an extra alertness – almost as if we have to work out the specifics of the escape ourselves
  • Andre Devigny was present at the shoot to over see the setting and such
  • Bresson, “This story is true. I present it as it is, without ornaments…[he is not aiming at a complete historical reconstruction of the events] even if historical circumstances play a determining role in regard to external events and interior reactions, these circumstances nevertheless remain secondary in regard to them.”
  • Bresson, “It was a matter of making a rapid film out of slow-moving things, suggesting the ponderous life of prison.”

The Spirit

  • Note how all the objects of escape had to be forced into a new shape
  • In the process the attempt to dominate matter becomes a kind of spiritual transformation
  • Bresson, “I want to show this miracle: an invisible hand over the prison directing events and making something succeed for one person and not for another.”
  • Chance or Grace is at work in the prison – Grace (or chance) allows him to escape
  • “Life is a relentless struggle whose aim is the soul’s liberation from the individualism of prison”