Wednesday, August 18, 2010

#129: Le Trou

(Jacques Becker, 1960)

Le Trou is about humanity, concepts of freedom, and ultimately issues of loyalty and the proper delineations of society (not, like The Grand Illusion, in a class sense, but instead a more primal sense of us vs. them). This is why the final twist hits home so strongly. It throws all of these themes into question and challenges the viewer to shift his or her perception of what they have just seen.

However, where Le Trou really shines is in the depiction of process, specifically that of human work. Like the perfect Rififi, Le Trou is about professional criminals coldly executing a complex plan in silence and with unspoken trust. Coincidentally, both involve clever methods of digging through structures, and both films depict without music or dialog the intense and laborious process of carrying out their plans. The stubborn insistence in many French crime films (many of Melville's films have a similar rote quality to them) to show process with a clear and deliberate perspective serves to simultaneously deglamorize the criminals and ramp up the suspense you feel in the moment. Their work is stretched out into real time, and it makes the suspense all the more realistic.

The scenes of these men digging and crawling through tunnels - both made by them and created for the prison - are truly exciting, and turn the film into a ground-level counterpoint to Bresson's divine A Man Escaped. By the time two of the men poke their head out into the street, you actually feel like you were in prison for the rest of the film, like you had been claustrophobic without realizing it, and the open air feels just as liberating as it must have to the characters. The film's final moments come with such rapidity and unexpected power that many questions are left unanswered but it doesn't seem to matter. Le Trou is that rare kind of masterpiece which says much more than what is literally depicted, but doesn't particularly need to in order to generate an immense emotional impact.

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