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Film / A Man Escaped

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A Man Escaped (Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut) is a 1956 film from France directed by Robert Bresson.

The film is set during World War II and the German occupation of France. A man named Fontaine (François Leterrier), a member of the French Resistance, is clapped into Montluc prison in Lyon, and after being beaten by the Gestapo, is left to ponder his fate. One day he notices that while his cell door is made out of stout oak wood, the panels of oak are joined together with lesser quality, softer wood. When he gets an iron spoon with his lunch pail, he pockets it, and discovers that he can saw through the joints. Eventually he's able to remove the wood panels. He then begins to plot his escape.

Based on the Real Life memoir of Andre Devigny, who really did escape from Montluc prison in August 1943.

Note: Since this film has a Spoiler Title, spoilers should be unmarked in this answer.


  • The Alcatraz: The forbidding Montluc prison, which Fontaine is determined to escape.
  • Based on a True Story: Starts with a hand-written note from Bresson stating "The following is a true story. I present it as it happened, without adornment."
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Fontaine fashions a couple, one of which he uses to shimmy down a wall. The second one he flings all the way across the gap between the inner and outer walls, and when the hook catches successfully, he and Jost clamber across the gap and thence out of the prison.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A dramatic exmaple. Orsini was betrayed to the Gestapos by his own wife and strangled her near to death over it. The other inmates thought he would go mad, but after enough time he became just as detached and disillusioned as the rest of them. He later admits to Fontaine that although he still has the memories of what happened, to him they're "of another man".
  • Chromosome Casting: It is a movie set in prison, after all.
  • Cutlery Escape Aid: Fontaine uses an iron spoon he steals from his lunch pail to saw through the soft wood joints holding the wooden panels of his cell walls together.
  • Either/Or Title: Un condamné à mort s'est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut, which translates out to "A Man Condemned To Death Escaped, or, The Wind Blows Where It Wishes". The second part of that title is a quote from the Gospel of John and is commonly rendered in English in archaic King James Bible English as "The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth".
  • Enemy Chatter: The guard on his bicycle ponders about his girlfriend. It's not translated though.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the opening scene, Fontaine tries to jump out of the cop car and escape to freedom. He's chased down by a Gestapo man who jumps out of the car ahead of him.
  • Great Escape: How did you guess? Concludes with the tense action sequence in which Fontaine and Jost escape. Fontaine has to kill a guard in the courtyard at one point.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: Fontaine learns how to pick his handcuffs with a pin.
  • In Medias Res: The story starts with Fontaine on his way to jail. We don't find out very much about him, except that he's got a mother alive somewhere (he smuggles out a letter). The whole story is solely concerned with his escape.
  • Invisible President: When Fontaine is taken to Hotel Terminus to see the infamous war criminal Klaus Barbie, Barbie is only seen from behind.
  • La Résistance: Why Fontaine is in jail, apparently for trying to blow up a bridge.
  • Les Collaborateurs:
    • A Frenchman in the prison office calls Fontaine in and demands to know if he's accepted his defeat.
    • Late in the film, Fontaine has to share his cell with Jost, a 16-year-old boy who joined the German army before getting in trouble and chucked into prison. Fontaine wonders if he's a spy.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Justified. Fontaine spends all of the film in a white shirt that was bloodied during his impulsive first escape attempt and the aftermath.
  • The Load: Subverted. Fontaine is worried that Jost is going to be this, because his entire plan is based on the idea that he will escape alone, and now he has a cellmate. He reluctantly decides to trust Jost, and it turns out that they reach a point in the escape which Fontaine couldn't have carried out without someone else to help him. They make it out together.
  • Myopic Architecture: While the door to Fontaine's cell is made of strong oak, the panels are joined together with significantly softer wood.
  • Narrator: Fontaine's voiceover is present throughout, narrating his story in first-person.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Fontaine and Jost walking rapidly away through the fog-bound streets of Lyon. The real Andre Devigny lived until 1999.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: We are not shown how Fontaine offs the guard in the yard.
  • Perma-Shave: Despite the circumstances, Fontaine is clean-shaven in every scene.
  • Poverty Food: All we ever see the prisoners eat is soup.
  • Prayer Is a Last Resort: When the bible-abiding fellow inmate asks Fontaine if he ever prayed, the latter responds that he did when things got bad which the former thinks is just too easy.
  • Race Against the Clock: Fontaine is eventually sentenced to execution as he reaches the final stages of calculating his escape. On one fateful day, he either has to escape that night or face a firing squad the next morning.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Orsini, one of the few prisoners we get to know a bit about, ends up dying halfway through after trying to escape, being caught, and executed. However, Fontaine notes how his attempt failed and realizes he needs to install hooks to avoid losing his rope and getting caught in the same way. He and the priest even state out loud that Orsini failed his escape so that Fontaine could succeed his.
  • Spiteful Spit: The hero is spat on by a German soldier on arrival at the prison.
  • Spoiler Title: Well, duh.
  • Tally Marks on the Prison Wall: How Fontaine passes the time in his cell while he waits for either execution or his chance at escape.
  • Title Drop: The alternate title, anyway. Another prisoner copies out Jesus's words to Nicodemus, John 3:3-8, about being born again and how "the wind blows where it wishes."
  • Uncertain Doom: Terry, the inmate who told Fontaine the news and helped him send and receive things, comes up to tell Fontaine goodbye because he's being taken away somethere and they "won't tell me where". He never appears again, or is even confirmed to have been executed (which if so, isn't done publicly).