(1956)5Tom WienerAfter fellow French director Jean Renoir set the standard for POW dramas with Grand Illusion, as well as codifying many of the genre's trademark details, Robert Bresson went his own way with this film, based on a true story and informed by his own experiences during World War II. In Grand Illusion (and many films to follow, such as Stalag 17 and The Great Escape), the camaraderie among the prisoners and the relationships between them and their captors are as important a part of the story as the prisoners' attempt to escape. Bresson will have none of that; his Lt. Fontaine is, like many a Bresson protagonist, going it alone. Here there are no community meetings, no tense or even jocular exchanges between captive officers and their captor counterparts. Much of the film is free of dialogue and music (Mozart is employed occasionally); the sounds you hear are one man scraping, whittling, and carving his way out of his cell. That Fontaine takes on a partner in this enterprise only adds to the tension; who's to say this man won't make a mistake or, worse, report Fontaine to the authorities in hopes of better treatment. The film has the austerity of a documentary but ultimately the shapeliness of a work of dramatic art. There's nothing ingratiating about it, which is not to say that it's inaccessibly remote. Bresson and Lt. Fontaine each work pretty much their own way to achieve a goal, whether it's making a film or a good escape.