A MAN ESCAPED – SOUND ANALYSIS

Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped illustrates how the use of sound can transform an entire film. The story takes place in France in 1943 and revolves around Fontaine, a resistance fighter arrested by the Germans and the way he escapes from there along with his young room partner Jost. The sound throughout the film has been as cinematic as images. At certain points in A Man Escaped, Bresson creates a complete interplay between sound and images. A set of sound motifs emphasizes the space outside Fontaine’s cell. The visual shows a streetcar in the opening scene, and the bell and motor of a streetcar are heard off-screen every time Fontaine speaks to someone through his cell window. This noise reminds the audience of his goal of reaching the streets beyond the walls. During the second half of the film, the sounds of trains also become important. When Fontaine is first able to leave his cell and walk in the hall unobserved, we hear a train whistle. It returns at other moments when he leaves his cell clandestinely, until the train provides the noise to cover the sounds Fontaine and Jost make during their escape. The use of silence blended with approaching footsteps during the execution of a guard in the last part can be termed as a masterpiece. The daily gathering of the men to wash in a common sink becomes associated with running water. Some motifs like tapping of handcuffs on wall and scrapping or coughing as a signal between prisoner and also constant defiance of rules by hush talking dynamizes Fontaine’s escape thus calling audience’s attention to details. The voice-over of Fontaine which is non-simultaneous, since it occurs at a time later than the images, is the key factor of our perception of actions. The narration gives the audience a visual perception and drives through the entire film particularly during the escape when the time elapses were carried out. Thus Fontaine’s narration adds a degree of depth to the film’s narrative by allowing the audience glimpses of the character’s mental condition. The entire narration of the film is in past tense which ensures the audience that Fontaine will have an escape and so the suspense is centred around how he escapes. Hence, the film guides our expectations toward the minute details of Fontaine’s work to break out of prison and the narration with the sound effects draw our attention to tiny gestures and ordinary objects that become crucial to the escape. The sound effects of this film present the minute details to the audience in a much more comfortable manner than the visuals, by giving each object a specific, distinguishable timbre. In the long middle stretch of the film, in which Fontaine works on breaking through his door and making the implements of escape, detail becomes particularly prominent. A close-up shows Fontaine’s hands sharpening a spoon handle into a chisel; the loud scraping evokes the very feel of the metal distinct the rubbing of the spoon against the boards of the door, the ripping of blankets and the swish sound of straw against the floor to make ropes. The director has quirkily restricted the visual knowledge and guides the audience’s expectations through sound. For example, the opening scene had the visuals fixed onto the car seat and the other prisoner,

as the opening sceneillustrates. Bresson eliminates the streetcar noise. every object is assigned a distinct pitch. This has the effect of intensifying audience attention greatly. helps the sound to become more prominent at times. During much of the last sequence. The moment Fontaine leaps from the car. cycles. the action takes place outdoors at night and there are no establishing shots to give a sense of the space. Fontaine seeks to use the streetcar’s uproar to conceal his dash from the car. in the final escape. and we hear running feet and gunshots offscreen. like during sharpening of chisel in low light inside prison. with stretches of silence. The reliance on sound culminates in the final escape scene. But as a streetcar blocks the road. Thus our reactions to Fontaine’s imprisonment are intensified through the manipulation of timbre. The volume of sounds ranges from very loud to almost inaudible. also the mental stress and temporal happiness on the central character. Certain sounds not only are very loud but also have an echo effect added to give them a distinctive timbre. the film alternates sounds off-screen.while the sound of footsteps and gun-shots drove the narrative forward. footsteps and trains. the noises of the handcuffs and the cell door’s bolts are magnified for the same echo effect. In the film. like bells. The voices of the German guards as they give Fontaine orders are reverberant and harsh compared to the voices of the French prisoners. The simple framing. The sound of the train has been used as a subject and the constant sounds of cycle. Sound is the main guide to what is happening. Similarly. The film’s sparse sound mix effectively isolates specific sounds for our attention. The first few shots of Fontaine riding to prison in a car are accompanied only by the soft hum of the motor. The non-diegetic music of the film not only portrays the trust and relationships between Fontaine and his prison-mates but at times. These manipulations suggest Fontaine’s own perceptual subjectivity.footsteps of guards furthermore intensifies the situation. Later. .

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