Friday, April 15, 2011

Le Trou

French cinema has this reputation of being really snobbish, pretentious, arty, and not very fun to watch. It doesn't seem to be especially accurate though, as I've seen as many really great masculine thrillers out of France as any other country during this classic-film-watching journey. Le Trou is perhaps the great unsung prison escape film, being a pretty perfect example of what makes that kind of movie awesome without ever dreaming of insulting the audience's intelligence.

The movie is based on a book which was based on the real story of men who escaped from French prisons, including one who actually plays a character in this film based on himself. It begins as a man accused of attempted murder by his wife is made the fifth inmate in a cell where the other four have been planning to break out. After they test him a little bit, they let him on the plan, which involves tunneling through the floor of their cell to the basement underneath, and from there tunneling to the outside world. It's a simple plot, and a great deal of time is spent just watching the men work in real time, slowly chipping away at cement or sawing through metal, which sounds like it could be boring but ends up giving the viewer a real sense of the brutal labor and commitment that undergoing such endeavors would take. The movie itself isn't terribly long so it's hard for these scenes to ever really overstay their welcome. There are lots of clever little things the men do to evade detection or sneak something by a guard, and the story never runs out of surprises or ever seems to get mundane despite the relative simplicity of their plan.

The true strength of the film is the characters. All five men are well drawn and sympathetic figures, each with their own personalities and thoughts and worries, and the way they come together in pursuit of the thought of freedom is inspiring. I would say there's no real main character, obviously the fifth inmate gets a bit of a spotlight due to his circumstances, but the focus isn't on him so much as the whole mission in general. It's a really tense and visceral film right up to the ending, which is as surprising and memorable as you'd hope from this type of story. Le Trou was Jacques Becker's final film, but I'd guess he was still at the top of his game during filming. Just a really tightly made, interesting movie from start to finish.

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