A Man Escaped

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A Man Escaped
Directed byRobert Bresson
Written byRobert Bresson
Produced byAlain Poiré
Jean Thuillier
StarringFrançois Leterrier
Charles Le Clainche
Maurice Beerblock
Roland Monod
CinematographyLéonce-Henri Burel
Edited byRaymond Lamy
Music byWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Distributed byGaumont Film Company
Release date
  • 11 November 1956 (1956-11-11)
Running time
99 minutes
LanguagesFrench, German

A Man Escaped or: The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth (French: Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut; literally, "One condemned to death escaped, or, the wind blows where it wants") is a 1956 French film directed by Robert Bresson. It is based on the memoirs of André Devigny, a member of the French Resistance held in Montluc prison by the occupying Germans during World War II. The protagonist of the film is called Fontaine. Bresson himself was imprisoned by the Germans as a member of the French Resistance. The second part of the title comes from the Bible (John 3:8).

The soundtrack uses the Kyrie from Mozart's Great Mass in C minor, K. 427.[1] The film was entered into the 1957 Cannes Film Festival,[2] and has been one of Bresson's most renowned works since its initial release.[3]


After the establishing shot of Montluc prison, but before the opening credits, the camera rests on a plaque commemorating the 7,000 prisoners who died at the hands of the Nazis.

On the way to jail, Fontaine, a member of the French Resistance, seizes an opportunity to escape his German captors when the car carrying him is forced to stop, but he is soon apprehended, beaten for his attempt, handcuffed and taken to the jail. At first he is incarcerated in a cell on the first floor of the prison, and he is able to talk to three French men who are exercising in the courtyard. The men obtain a safety pin for Fontaine, which gives him the ability to unlock his handcuffs. This turns out to be needless as a means to help him with any escape plans he may already have, but it allows him at will, to remove the handcuffs which are kept on him 24 hours a day. He eventually gives his word parole to the German magistrate he is brought before, not to escape, and is moved to a cell on the top floor without handcuffs.

Once in the new cell, Fontaine begins inspecting the door and discovers that the boards are joined together with low-quality wood. Using an iron spoon he deliberately neglects to return after a meal, he begins to chip away at the wood. After weeks of work, he is able to remove three boards from the door, roam the hallway, get back in his cell and restore the appearance of the door.

Fontaine is not the only prisoner trying to escape. Orsini makes an attempt, but fails to get very far because his rope breaks at the second wall. Orsini is tossed back in his cell, beaten up by the guards, and executed a few days later. Fontaine is not deterred from his plan. He makes hooks from the light fitting in his cell, fashions himself ropes from clothing and bedding and fastens the hooks to the rope with wires taken from his bed. The other prisoners grow somewhat skeptical of his escape plans, saying he is taking too long.

After being taken to Gestapo headquarters to be informed that he is sentenced to execution, Fontaine is taken back to jail and put in the same cell. Soon he gets a cellmate, François Jost, a sixteen-year-old who had joined the German army. Fontaine is not sure whether he can trust Jost (whom he sees speaking on friendly terms with a German guard) and realizes he will either have to kill him or take him with him in the escape. In the end, after Jost admits he too wants to escape, he chooses to trust the boy and tells him the plan. One night, they escape by gaining access to the roof of the building, descending to the courtyard via a rope, killing the German guard there, and climbing over two walls. They drop down into the street undetected and walk away.


  • François Leterrier – Lieutenant Fontaine
  • Charles Le Clainche – François Jost
  • Roland Monod – Le Pasteur
  • Maurice Beerblock – Blanchet
  • Jacques Ertaud – Orsini
  • Roger Treherne – Terry
  • Jean Paul Delhumeau – Hebrard
  • Jean Philippe Delamarre – Prisoner No, 110
  • César Gattegno – Le Prisonnier X
  • Jacques Oerlemans – Chief Warder


The film is based on the memoirs of André Devigny, who escaped from the Montluc prison in Lyon in 1943, during World War II.[4] Bresson said in an interview that with A Man Escaped he "wanted to achieve a great purity, a greater asceticism than in Diary of a Country Priest", noting his use of nonprofessional actors.[5]

DVD and Blu-ray release[edit]

New Yorker Video released the film on Region 1 DVD in 2004; it is currently out of print. Artificial Eye brought out a Region 2 version in the UK in April 2008. This disc contains a superior audio/video presentation and contains a Dutch documentary, The Road to Bresson, as an extra. Madman Entertainment released a Region 4 Australian DVD in July 2009. This release contains a scholarly audio commentary by Professor Ross Gibson of the Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney.

Gaumont released a Blu-ray Disc in France in November 2010.[6]

The film was released by The Criterion Collection in March 2013 on Region A Blu-ray disc and Region 1 DVD. Supplemental features include "Bresson: Without a Trace," a 1965 episode of the television program "Cinéastes de notre temps" in which the director gives his first on-camera interview; "The Road to Bresson, a 1984 documentary featuring interviews with filmmakers Louis Malle, Paul Schrader, and Andrei Tarkovsky; "The Essence of Forms," a documentary from 2010 in which collaborators and admirers of Bresson’s, including actor François Leterrier and director Bruno Dumont, share their thoughts about the director and his work; and "Functions of Film Sound," a visual essay on the use of sound in "A Man Escaped," with text by film scholars David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson.[7]

Scholarly and critical reception[edit]

A Man Escaped was named by the National Board of Review as one of the best foreign films of 1956,[3] and Bresson won Best Director at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.[8] Today, the work is sometimes considered Bresson's masterpiece.[9][10][11][12] The Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski was influenced by the film and ranked it as one of the top ten films that "affected" him the most.[13] The American-British singer Scott Walker listed the film as one of his favorite films of all time.[14] Benny Safdie of the Safdie Brothers named the film as his favorite film of all time.[15] It came 69th in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll.[16] The British-American filmmaker Christopher Nolan was influenced by the film (along with Bresson's other film, Pickpocket) for his film, Dunkirk.[17] Roger Ebert wrote, "Watching a film like A Man Escaped is like a lesson in the cinema. It teaches by demonstration all the sorts of things that are not necessary in a movie. By implication, it suggests most of the things we're accustomed to are superfluous. I can't think of a single unnecessary shot in A Man Escaped."[18]


  1. ^ Richie, Donald (1998). "Bresson and Music". In Quandt, James (ed.). Robert Bresson. Toronto: Toronto International Film Festival Group. p. 300. He employed Mozart, the Kyrie Elieson [sic] of the Mass in C Minor, music which had a "colour," he said, matching that of the film. ... The music is heard in seven sequences, in all of which the prisoners are communicating with the condemned man, when they are no longer alone.
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: A Man Escaped". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-02-08.
  3. ^ a b Cunneen 2004, p. 59.
  4. ^ Cunneen 2004, pp. 58–70.
  5. ^ Cunneen 2004, p. 60.
  6. ^ "Un condamné à mort s'est échappé (Blu-ray)". amazon.fr. Retrieved 2011-03-18.
  7. ^ "A Man Escaped". criterion.com. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  8. ^ "UN CONDAMNE A MORT S'EST ECHAPPE - Festival de Cannes (International Film Festival)". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  9. ^ "A Man Escaped: Quintessential Bresson - From the Current - The Criterion Collection". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  10. ^ "A Man Escaped (Bresson, 1956)". 1More Film Blog. 29 June 2009. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  11. ^ "A Man Escaped (1956)". Stanley W. Rogouski. 3 July 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  12. ^ "DVD Review: Bresson's A Man Escaped (1956) - New Yorker Video DVD". People.ucalgary.ca. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  13. ^ Joseph Kickasola (2004). The Films of Krzysztof Kieslowski - The Liminal Image. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 26. ISBN 9780826415592. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  14. ^ Samuel Wigley (March 26, 2019). "Scott Walker's favourite films". BFI. British Film Institute. Retrieved 16 October 2021. In conversation with Jarvis Cocker for Q magazine, Walker said of director Robert Bresson: ‘When I see his films, it’s a visual version of what I want to get. He never uses real actors. If a person is laying down their hand, he just wants you to know a human being is laying down their hand. It’s the phenomenon of being human.’
  15. ^ Jacqueline Coley (January 14, 2020). "The Safdie Brothers' Five Favorite Films". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 15 July 2021. Benny Safdie: "Then the second one – and let’s say, this was in no particular order – but A Man Escaped, the [Robert] Bresson movie. That has to be my favorite movie of all time, just because it always makes me cry at the end, because I feel like I’ve achieved something that the character achieves. And it tells you what happens in the title, and it makes it no less suspenseful the entire way. You’re literally feeling the sound of the gravel as he puts his foot down – those shots of the foot or the spoon going into the slot. All of these things, the editing of it, the character, the way he’s using these actors who you don’t really know, they just – you feel like they’re real people. It’s just so perfectly put together, and it’s something where I kind of feel like I’m going along with the escape in a way that’s just done by a master. In a weird way, I feel like Bresson is the Fontaine character in that movie. But what’s weird is I’ve watched it again recently, and I had a totally different feeling of it, where it was more about society and how people are talking to each other. And then you realize Bresson is just kind of making the same movie every time, just with different [settings and characters]. One’s World War II, one’s Lancelot."
  16. ^ "Votes for A Man Escaped (1956)". British Film Institute. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  17. ^ Leonard Pearce (February 28, 2017). "Christopher Nolan Inspired by Robert Bresson and Silent Films for 'Dunkirk,' Which Has "Little Dialogue"". The Film Stage. The Film Stage, L.L.C. Retrieved 23 September 2021. “I spent a lot of time reviewing the silent films for crowd scenes –the way extras move, evolve, how the space is staged and how the cameras capture it, the views used,” Nolan tells Premiere Magazine. The director revealed that he brushed up on silent films such as Intolerance, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and Greed, as well as the films of Robert Bresson (notably Pickpocket and A Man Escaped, to dissect the process of creating suspense through details), Wages of Fear, and, of course, Saving Private Ryan.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (2011-11-21). "A Man Escaped movie review & film summary (1956)". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 2021-06-15.


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