Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Le Trou. A-

Jam-packed with detail, real-time footage, and some heady thrills, Jaques Becker's Le Trou serves as both a top-notch prison escape film and a magnificent final piece of old school French cinema. Released in 1960, just as La Nouvelle Vague was being ushered in by Breathless, Les Cousins, and The 400 Blows, La Trou is a distinctly classical piece in which five imprisoned men attempt an elaborate escape and in the process test their own friendship and loyalties. Becker was an unsung hero of French cinema (though he's gained more attention in recent years), but he was right in the middle of its richest pre-New Wave period, working as an assistant to Renoir on several of his masterpieces, and directing 16 films of his own from 1935 to 1960. Le Trou was his final film, as he died just after it was released. In it he obsesses over small details of prison life, like when he lets his camera linger on a prison guard cutting open food sent to the prisoners far longer than most directors would, or when some of the men beat up some plumbers for stealing cigarettes and stamps from their cell. These might seem a tad superfluous, but they enrich the experience, making prison as real as it's ever been in film. Becker has no spiritual concerns like Bresson does in A Man Escaped, which this is in other ways easy to compare to. Rather he wants to investigate what men do in prison, how they treat each other, how they react to certain things, and how they change. Since prison is sort of like a miniature world, a good prison movie can give us not just a portrait of prisoners, but of the nature of man. Le Trou does just that, and must be considered with Bresson's aforementioned film and Grand Illusion as the best of the prison-escape pictures. 

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