"Our cell is a bit special. ... We've got a lot to lose." That's what inmate Claude Gaspard (Marc Michel) hears when he arrives in crowded Cell 6, Block 11, in Paris' La Santé prison. His new cellmates -- four of them, all crammed into a tiny room that they also share with stacks of cardboard — are tough, stern men, each doing hard time. And, as they reveal to Gaspard after making sure he can be trusted, they've decided to dig their way out via the sewer system. Jacques Becker's 1960 masterpiece, Le Trou, one of the most gripping of all French films, catalogs the methodical way this group of terse, no-nonsense prisoners goes about its daring, nearly impossible escape.
Becker captures and keeps our attention by focusing on the tactile. The men fashion tools out of the metal frame of a folding bed. A tiny, periscope-like spyglass is made of a shard of broken mirror and a toothbrush. We see how prisoners are forced to become resourceful just to survive on a daily basis, and how this in turn helps them devise solutions to their problems. If you ever wind up in a French prison, don't smuggle in a file — just bring a DVD of this movie. It's practically a guide to breaking out.
Becker doesn't elide any detail, and he lets his scenes go on, so we understand just how much effort it all takes. It's agonizing to watch but never tedious or boring. As we witness these men work, we also watch them bond, and we see what they're made of — despite the relative lack of dialogue. Amid their silences, loyalties are built, sacrifices made.
"Our cell is a bit special. ... We've got a lot to lose." That's what inmate Claude Gaspard (Marc Michel) hears when he arrives in crowded Cell 6, Block 11, in Paris' La Santé Prison. His new cellmates — four of them, all crammed into a tiny room that they...