Sunday, May 15, 2005


Un condamné à mort s'est échappé

When was it that I first saw Bresson's film ? During my high school years (1961-64) or very shortly thereafter? I expect it most probably was the latter, for by that time I had resolved to be precisely who I was: a free gay man in a prison of a social order. When the key to the door arrived in 1969 with Stonewall and the activism it inspired, I was ready to use it.

Bresson's characteristically idiosyncratic recreation of the real-life adventure of French "Resistance" fighter Andre Devigny from a German-run prison in then-occupied Lyon in 1943 has every physical detail right, but is far from either a "realistic" drama or a documentary of the least conventional sort. For while nominally based on Devigny's fist-person account, as critic/impressario Richard Roud noted in his Cinema: A Critical Dictionary that "In the original one of Devigny's major arguments in persuading Jost to escape is that he will take him to a brothel. Natually, there is nothing like that in Bresson's film -- not only because of Besson's delicacy, but because of the slightly ambiguous nature of Fontaine and Jost's relationship."

"Slightly ambiguous" ? Oh come on Richard, don't be coy. We all know what you'e driving at, and Bresson couldn't be any clearer. It's what overwhelmed me when I first saw the film. Francois Leterrier, arguably the most beautiful of all Bresson's leading men (and that's quite a line-up, including as it does Claude Laydu, Martin Lassalle, Francois LaFarge, Guillaume de Forets and Antoine Monnier), his eyes perpetually peering up towards our own, seems complete in and of himself. That's the way the character he "models" (Bresson's term for actors) has been concieved. Fontaine is an unambiguoulsy good, brave, and most important of all resolute individual. He constantly encourages his fellow prisoners to "resist" -- to fight against the forces that emprison them. And while some of the other prisoners (a Protestant minister in particular) may speak of God and prayer, (clearly as Bresson's way of framing him as an incipeint Saint), Fontaine says nothing of the sort himself. His becoming modesty likewise forestalls any formal mention of his loneliness. It's up to Bresson's imagery to make that clear -- the taps on the walls of his cell to contact others, shy glances over the communal sink -- like a schoolboy trying to flirt while knowing the teacher may be looking. And so, as a reward, one might say the "God" gives him Jost (Charles LaClainche), a young, scruffy deserter from the Franco-German army. "God" gives him a man to love. That it's love is quite clear."Oh Jost!" Fontaine gasps embracing him after they've scaled the final wall. Obviously they were going off into the night to make love.
And I followed their lead.

Le vent souffle ou il veut
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