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Critics reviews
Le trou
Jacques Becker France, 1960
There is little verbal development of their characters or backstories. Becker rarely used any of the common devices for evoking interiority or subjectivity. His attention was devoted to behavior, gesture, action, and interaction, yet there is depth of feeling in even his lightest touches.
August 28, 2018
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There’s something weirdly Zen about these characters. Yes, they’re anxious to get out, but there’s an air of resignation about them, too. It’s not so much that they must escape, it’s that they couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t try… Le Trou is not just a movie about tough guys trying to break out of prison; it’s a movie about doomed romantics.
June 27, 2017
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Considering [the] appreciation, it’s odd that “Le Trou” has never found a niche in the repertory pantheon. Was it the absence of stars? The director’s demise? The distributor’s inexperience? Perhaps it was the movie’s disquieting philosophical kicker. “Le Trou” denounces injustice and celebrates solidarity, leaving you to ponder what happens when those values collide.
June 23, 2017
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Becker details the ambient violence of prison life, the hidden negotiations between captives and captors, and the solidarity of detainees, but his deeply empathetic, fanatically specific view of his protagonists leaves out some elements. Giovanni was no common criminal—a Nazi collaborator, he blackmailed, tortured, and murdered Jews during, and even after, the Occupation. The charm of France’s underworld depended not just on criminals’ own code of silence but on Becker’s, and on all of France’s.
June 23, 2017
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A constellation of glances, gestures, and acts of physical grace, the film is an unlikely blend of styles. If the overwhelming feeling is for the pleasure derived from the professional way Becker’s inmates treat their escape, there is also a flipside feeling of moments spent relaxing between key sequences.
June 19, 2017
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[Le Trou and Dying at Grace] are explorations, then, of the human body idealized mechanically and perverted fiscally. Le Trou’s interlocking muscles, sometimes with the steel of a ladder or a bedframe as a consenting third party, are vaguely suggestive of homoeroticism; and signs of beautiful life—movement that “realizes” the abstract of a brain’s missive—are often reduced in both films to under-the-sheet kinesthetics.
August 28, 2012
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The world of Le Trou may be “a world of consciousness”, but there are ways in which Becker manages to evoke the uncanny, the marvellous, the “private, timeless” inner life of the collective.
May 05, 2006
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While fundamentally an escape picture, is inherently a sermon in patience. It is no pageant. Its sets and characters are cold, its dialogue practical and bleak; there is no musical score. But there is humour, patiently and exquisitely placed… To escape, the prisoners must dig a hole in the cell floor, a feat which has no equal in cinema.
October 28, 2004
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The wondrous climax of this development is the emergence of Manu and Gaspard through a manhole to stare at the prison walls from outside. The force of the scene—one of the most mysterious epiphanies in cinema—comes partly from the tension between the two men’s points of view. Gaspard, as usual, feels compelled to give voice to his wonder and his longing, while Manu’s silence implies that even now he is seeing not just for himself but for the group.
October 15, 2001
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Released alongside Breathless and The 400 Blows, Jacques Becker’s 1959 film was the last great flowering of French classicism; the “tradition of quality” here goes out with a masterpiece… The suspense is built slowly and carefully, through finely perceived physical details and quirks of character. The obvious comparison is to Bresson’s A Man Escaped, but Becker has none of Bresson’s taste for abstraction; his film is rooted in the immediate, the concrete, the human.
January 01, 1980
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There is more than a touch of Bresson (even more, however, of Becker’s mentor Renoir) to the close-ups which punctuate the evolving relationship between the escapees and their final discovery of a sort of forgiveness for their betrayer. Classical in its intense simplicity, this is certainly Becker’s most perfectly crafted film.
January 01, 1975
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Taken in themselves, those last-minute doings are trivial, utterly unimportant; and yet, at the dramatic high point of his film, Becker gives them persistent and affectionate attention. Roland dusting his jacket, a man engrossed in the privacy of an inconsequential act, is pitted against the constraining outside corridor.
June 01, 1969
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It’s so well wrought that it makes the feeble frenetics of a Tom Jones look like a kindergarten exercise. It is as if Becker had left as his last will and testament a documentation of unself-conscious filmmaking in the service of pleasurable entertainment… Becker’s movies are always easier on sybaritic eyes than on angst-seeking souls. Not even Warners has ever turned out a more luminous prison-escape movie than Le Trou.
May 28, 1964
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It is the story of an undertaking… which just happens to take place in prison. Becker neither condemns nor acquits his prisoners: their past history, all they may have done previously, loses its importance the moment they begin digging. What really counts is that “value of effort” which Becker has always respected. Five men with equal chances up against a monstrous mass of concrete: in its own way fair odds. And the plan is realized step by step before our eyes, with a rare visual authority.
March 01, 1961
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