Somewhere in this film is one of the greatest prison escape movies ever made. But I think there are enough nitpicky little things that sap it’s full potential that I’m not sure it’s deserving of the the title.
I think the bones really are here: the story works and I appreciate how little the Mozart is used. There are some genuinely tense moments, especially once the escape begins but even before that. I also like how long it takes for the escape to start. That aspect of the film is very much a masterclass in how to do this, it’s how you build tension. I suspect that, in 1956, there was little like this, especially when it comes to this genre, which I don’t think was very developed at this point.
But the narration is just too much. There’s so much of it that it almost takes away from the tension at times. I think it’s necessary, given how little on-screen dialogue there is but I also think there’s a middle ground between no narration – which might have been confusing – and the amount of narration they settled on, which feels a little too expository too many times.
The other issue I have is with how it’s shot. There’s not enough context in the shots, both in terms of establishing how the escape needs to happen and when it is actually happening. It’s possible this prison is so notorious in France that it’s known, but I don’t know about that. I think Bresson was going for claustrophobia but I think it does make it a little harder to tell how far to freedom.
It’s still a pretty cool film and I think it is mostly deserving of its reputation. I just think it could be better and I feel like a few tweaks would have made it an absolute classic.