In an essay on Béla Tarr’s Almanac of Fall, internationally renowned film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum noted the anxiety he experienced while writing on the films of the Hungarian master. He’d only recently encountered Tarr’s films, and his anxiety didn’t have to do with whether or not he understood them, but rather stemmed from a lack of historical context, lack of knowledge of Tarr’s entire oeuvre, and the fact that he had forgotten the film’s opening quote by Alexander Pushkin. It is somehow comforting to know that even Rosenbaum (at one point) was unsure of where to begin when faced with a filmmaking master. It’s a feeling many of us have encountered, and one that could easily grip a person while perusing the films selected for the upcoming Robert Bresson retrospective at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Bresson undoubtedly falls into the category of “great master,” and if you’re not familiar with his films, reviewing the Lightbox’s current schedule might make you a little queasy. Maybe. In any case, never fear. An easy entry point would be this Thursday’s screening of a new print of A Man Escaped, because it will be introduced by film critic and University of Toronto professor Bart Testa.
Written and directed by Bresson, the film was released in 1957. It was immediately embraced by the likes of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. To this day, the film remains a top pick of critics, including Rosenbaum and the late Pauline Kael.
The film follows French resistance leader Fontaine (François Leterrier), who is about to attempt to escape from a Nazi prison camp, where he is set to be executed. Based on resistance fighter Andre Devingny’s own accounts, as well as Bresson’s personal experience in a German POW camp, the film is considered not only an epitome of postwar filmmaking, but also an artistic apex for Bresson.
If that’s not enough to make the Bresson beginner delve in, the introduction by Testa should do it. As a long-time film critic, scholar, and teacher, Testa’s knowledge of cinema—both it’s history and aesthetics—will guide your viewing. By framing the film both in its cultural context and in the context of Bresson’s larger body of work, this evening will act as a primer for newbies. And if you’re already into Bresson, then hey, there’s nothing to lose. Win-win.