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“The solitary gangster struggles against the walls he erects around himself. For prisoners of war, on the other hand, incarceration is not of their making, and they have committed no wrong except that of being on the side of the vanquished. For the existentialists of mid-twentieth-century Europe it was the public oppression of Nazi Occupation, felt keenly everywhere, which led to the cogent articulation, especially in France, of a philosophical response. Hence a pessimism incubated during the war grew after it into intellectual doubt about human freedom, and gave enormous currency to a view of the world ungoverned by God, from which the only conclusion could be that he did not exist. Both Robert Bresson, the director of Diary of a Country Priest (see chapter 1), and Jean-Pierre Melville obsessed with the American gangster film, were strongly shaped by the experience of the war. Bresson spent time in a prisoner-of-war camp in 1940-41, while Melville was evacuated to England after Dunkirk and served with the Free French forces in North Africa and Italy. When each turned to making a film about France under the Occupation, they avoided exact autobiography, but in choosing a narrative, they both made very personal films, to which they could bring some of their own experience and in which their ideas about the meaning of human existence were expressed in the purest form.”

I then write about Bresson’s Un Condamne a mort s’est echappe/ A Man Escaped and Melville’s Armee des ombres/ Army in the shadows. [Apologies to the French: accents not allowed in WordPress – shame on them.] Anyway, Bresson is Pascalian and salvific, Melville atheist and non-redemptive. They’re both terrific films, though.

Here’s Fontaine’s hands in the opening of A Man Escaped awaiting the advent of grace:

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