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12:30   5:45

Must End Thursday, July 20



– Jean-Pierre Melville (See below for Melville’s full statement.)

(1960) “Pauvre Gaspard.” A car mechanic tells us this is his story: too-sensitive-looking Marc Michel is ushered into a prison cell, where four wary-looking cons (including the mechanic as himself) tell him he’s looking at ten years hard labor. Then, when they abruptly take the first step toward a breakout, pounding away at a corner of the cell with a makeshift tool, a relentless and riveting “cinema of process” begins, culminating in a 4-minute take with three of the four cons taking turns at whacking away at a tunnel to freedom. Renoir protégé Becker, previously director of the charming “Paris” trilogy (Antoine and Antoinette, Rendez-vous in July, Edward and Caroline) and of primo gangster films, both period (Casque d’or) and modern (Touchez pas au Grisbi), determined to make a super-realistic treatment after reading newspaper accounts of the actual 1947 prison break, later teaming with ex-con and Série Noir icon José Giovanni, who wrote his own novel on the case, and three of the survivors. A powerful statement of teamwork, loyalty and betrayal, told with nerve-shredding suspense and capped by the most startling turn of the “periscope” in film history, The Hole (the title’s literal translation) was rhapsodized over by contemporary critics, but haunted by the death of 53-year-old Becker at the time of its release. New 4K DCP restoration. Approx. 131 minutes.



“A MASTERPIECE. One of the most gripping of all French films. Becker doesn’t elide any detail, and he lets his scenes go on and on, so we understand just how much effort it all takes. It’s agonizing to watch, but never tedious or boring... Le Trou is not just a movie about tough guys trying to break out of prison; it’s a movie about doomed romantics.”
– Bilge Ebiri, The Village Voice

“Extraordinarily single-minded and intrinsically suspenseful. The camaraderie of five prisoners sharing a cell and working together on a tunnel to freedom has something of the Renoir spirit; the movie’s sense of claustrophobia and obsession with prison procedure bespeaks firsthand knowledge… Le Trou denounces injustice and celebrates solidarity, leaving you to ponder what happens when those values collide.”
– J. Hoberman, The New York Times

“Deeply empathetic, fanatically specific. Details the ambient violence of prison life, the hidden negotiations between captives and captors, and the solidarity of detainees.” 
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“Not even Warner’s has ever turned out a more luminous prison escape movie.” 
– Andrew Sarris 

“As above criticism in its details as it is in its overall conception… One forgets one has been sitting for two-an-a-half hours because the film moves forward without any pauses or digressions. Every movement, every picture moves the action onward... Le Trou is a superb film, superbly conceived, written directed, edited, and mixed. It is a testament, and there are few enough films in which we can sense to such a degree the artist’s reflection all through the process… Becker wanted to achieve an exactitude of tone, refining it more and more until it became evident, clear. In Le Trou there is nothing but the exact look, the alive movement,  authentic faces against neutral walls, an utterly natural manner of speaking.”
– François Truffaut

Le Trou is based, by way of the novel by José Giovanni, on the story of Roland-Jean Keraudy, who plays himself in the film. Becker, who was already ill at the time, demanded absolute fidelity in the reconstruction of both the prison and the action that ensued therein. By the end of shooting, he was worn out and died on the 21st February having completed the editing but not the mixing, which was entrusted to his son and assistant, Jean Becker. The film was released on the 18th March. Faced with a commercial failure after the first few weeks, the distributor decided to cut about twenty minutes, which have never been seen since.”
– Bernard Eisenschitz

“He was fifty-two when his mastery, his maturity, allowed him to make a tremendous film, in which all the essential aspects of man would be dealt with: dignity, courage, fraternity, intelligence, nobility, respect and shame. There are only two frameworks for such an adventure: war and prison - I apologize to the ladies (whom I like very much) - because, in these two circumstances only, man is without woman, even though he thinks of her incessantly and can only surpass himself apart from his desires, his libido and his complexes. [...] How many pages would it take to enumerate the wonders of this masterpiece, of this film that I consider - and here I weigh my words carefully – as the greatest French film of all time?”
– Jean-Pierre Melville 

“AN EXEMPLARY PRISON MOVIE. Concentrating on minute details, it achieves a thrilling simplicity.” 
– Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out

– The New York Times

­– The New Yorker

“TAUT, BONE-BARE, AGONIZINGLY SUSPENSEFUL AND FLAWLESSLY ACTED! The drama hurtles toward a shock climax that suddenly becomes less a saga of physical endurance than a test of one man’s moral strength… As a movie about prison life it is authentic; La Santé’s guards are not brutes, they are merely inhumanly efficient machines, trained to perform surgery on a food parcel, to count skulls in the numbered cubicles where prisoners contemplate their anonymity. Le Trou deepens the adventure of an underground escape route by saying that a man can scrape, scratch, hammer and claw his way to freedom from everything but himself.”

“People have often gently mocked Becker’s manias, his infinite scruples when shooting... what some took to be a fault finds here its end, its triumph. Hardwood floorboards, grains of plaster, stones, cobblestones, bars, locks are to be lifted, scratched, worked on, unsealed, sawed, forced open without cheating, without ellipsis, without tricks, without easy dissolves… out of this extraordinary ‘analysis’ is continually born the rhythm, the anxiety, the suspense, the passion.” ­
– Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Cahiers du Cinéma

“[Becker’s] plunge into the dangers of the men’s undertaking draws the viewer into a different kind of empathetic perspective, one based not so much on character development but on shared subjective experience.”
- Eric Monder, Film Journal