This is the first Bresson film I ever saw and it stunned me. Since then, I have seen most of his other films and each one is remarkable, though a few stand out: Diary of a Country Priest, Au Hazard Balthaaar, Pickpocket, L'Argent. Still, this film is unique in that it retains the austere, minimalist and ultimately spiritual style of the others, and at the same time is a gripping thriller.
You might say of this film -- though Bressonian purists might hate me for saying this -- that Bresson uses his anti-Hollywood style to outdo Hollywood style. What I mean is: Bresson is known for revealing only what is absolutely essential, a gesture, an item, two hands engaged in an activity, feet walking. This has the effect of encouraging the viewer to pay attention, but also, because it forces no specific interpretation upon these items, encouraging the viewer to participate in the unfolding of events, and become more than merely a spectator. Hollywood style tends also to eliminate much of what is inessential, but to a much different end: to eliminate moments where the viewer might be distracted and think about something other than the film; the aim is to replace thought with the action on the screen, rather than to stimulate thought. In the case of this film, however, where the subject matter is a prison breakout (standard Hollywood fare) the minimalist style employed by Bresson is able to achieve both a high degree of tension, and a high level of involvement. From the moment the prisoner is in the prison, nothing is shown except what is relevant to the single-minded focus of the prisoner: to escape. In that sense, it is not at the end that the man escapes (as already announced in the title of the film), but from the very beginning he is escaped in the sense that he never accepts the status of imprisonment. The film is able to show this without ever having him discuss the matter with anyone. Remarkable.