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The emotional swan's song of a great artist
pzanardo20 January 2004
Probably, to really get "Le Trou", this splendid, intense movie, you have to be conscious that the great Jacques Becker was dying during the making of the film. A quiet stoicism permeates this work of art. The story is supposed to be very sad, but it isn't. The guys on the screen are too tough, by no means apt to mourn their dire destiny or, metaphorically, to ask for the viewer's sympathy.

We have the true story of the hole dug by a bunch of in-mates to escape from a jail in Paris. The screenplay is taken from a novel of the distinguished writer and film-maker Jose' Giovanni, himself formerly a convict. Becker chooses to tell the story in the simplest, neatest possible way. No music at all, an essential, dry, sharp yet powerful dialog. The in-mates do their job, to try to escape. The director avoids the annoying cliché, typical of the American jail-movies, of showing the wardens as sadistic torturers. They are tough and strict, they don't like but they feel no hate for the prisoners. The wardens just do their job, that's all. In fact, there are no really despicable characters in the film. At his last appointment with the art of cinema, Becker seems to accept and forgive all human beings.

A brilliant idea is to show how the guys turn common objects and waste iron into the tools needed for the escape (a key, a lamp, a pick, a sand-glass). The little periscope made with a tooth-brush gives raise to a shocking scene, few seconds of great cinema. We follow the in-mates' apparently endless, exhausting labor of digging and sewing. That should be rather boring for the viewer, but it isn't. How comes there's not a single moment of bore in the film? That's the privilege of Art.

The work of the camera and the black and white photography are sensational, and convey the intense emotions of the characters. The psychological study is made in such an understated way that you may overlook it at a first view. But, after seeing the movie a second time, and knowing the development of the story, you fully appreciate how the psychology of the characters is treated, with accuracy and depth. The actors make an excellent job. This is stunning, thinking that "Le Trou" was the first movie for Philippe Leroy and Michel Constantin, later prominent actors of French cinema. And Jean Keraudy wasn't a professional actor, he was one of the in-mates that actually dug the hole fourteen years earlier! (at least, this is stated by himself at the beginning of the movie, and is testified in several books on French cinema)

Are there deep messages in the film? Two wardens bring a fly to feed a spider. There is the spider, a patent symbol of death, ghastly in its immobility. Two prisoners are peeping and wondering: what the hell are the wardens doing? Got no idea. And who cares, after all? Maybe that is Becker's dry, ironic message. Don't be too deep. Fight against bad luck, be stoic and brave. Who cares, after all?

My opinion is that the artist Becker, displaying the same toughness of the guys on the screen, just fought to leave us a major work of art. Our task of viewers is to enjoy and love it. "Le Trou" is an unforgettable film, which honors the art of cinema.
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Masterpiece of Class-Conscious Film-Making
palmiro23 February 2003
This film is riveting in its attention to the details of a prison escape and to the relations between the men involved. And even if you're not interested in the Marxist vision that inspires Becker in this last film of his, you will still be captivated by the story. In any case, to understand Becker's vision, I will necessarily have to give away the story so beware (and my analysis also makes the film sound much more schematic and polemical than it will appear to you on viewing it):


At the beginning of the film one of actors (clearly a car mechanic) approaches the camera and tells us that we are about to see a true story, his story. We are led to believe that it is the story of an escape from prison, and indeed we are taken to Paris' largest prison where a group of 4 cellmates, already plotting their escape, finds that they are unexpectedly joined by a new cellmate: a well-dressed (all prisoners wear their street clothes), somewhat effete, young man who nominally sells cars at (presumably) his father-in-law's dealership--in any case, it's clear that he doesn't really have to work or at least work hard for a living. On the other hand, the other four are clearly working-class guys who've drawn a bad card in life. After debating among themselves whether to let the pretty boy in on their plot, they decide to do so after they learn that he's in for attempted murder and stands to have a strong reason to want to break out.

Becker shows the extraordinary ingenuity of the working-class prisoners in contriving tools, in developing a postal system between cells, and in setting up a way of telling time where there are no clocks or church bells. The implication is: we, the working class, have the minds, the manual dexterity, and the willingness to work and to build our own civilization (minus the bourgeoisie). Meanwhile, the bourgeois type is astonished at how the working-class types are able to organize and think for themselves ('I've never met men like you before')- -and, above all, he is moved by their willingness to share their victuals and their plans for freedom with him. And it is just this solidarity and mutual support which Becker believes represents an alternative way to organize human society--an alternative to the self-centered world of the bourgeois. Note, for example, the character of 'Joe' who opts to not join in the escape because the police would harass his mother to death, but who still does not rat on the others even though it's clear he will have to do additional time and time in solitary after the breakout. Becker has a nice touch as well in the way he portrays the prison guards, also from the working-class: generally friendly towards the 'boys' in prison, with perhaps an authoritarian streak in them but no suggestion of a sadistic, brutish nature. So when 'Roland' says, 'Poor Gaspard,' after the latter has betrayed them (it was clear that he'd been tempted earlier to do so when he saw the taxi from the manhole cover), it is evident that the only real 'brute' is the bourgeois, who, in the end, will always turn on his pals (and his fellow man in general)if it serves his interest and who is bereft of the fellow-feeling which undergirds working-class life. So what about the claim that this is a true story? The actor who plays 'Roland' is a non-professional, but it's hard to imagine that he could be as young as he is if he had actually attempted 3 previous escapes and had to serve another long stretch for the failed attempt portrayed in the film. Instead, it's the 'true story' of the working class: a class dominated by the bourgeoisie but which resists and has the capability to guide itself without the bourgeoisie; a class which embodies the values of solidarity and the dignity of work--values which can become the foundation of an alternative civilization.
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Sweat-inducing suspense classic
kev-2227 May 1999
Jacques Becker's "Le Trou" is one of the greatest of all prison-break films. No film lover should miss it. It is every bit as masterful and tense as other milestones of this subgenre, including John Sturges' "The Great Escape," Robert Bresson's masterpiece "A Man Escaped," and Don Siegel's "Escape from Alcatraz." The meticulous preparation for the escape is a nail-biter, with many adrenaline-inducing close calls. The ringer: Will the newly exonerated prisoner stay with the group and escape or rat on the others? Those seeking pure entertainment or those seeking existentialist philosophical fare will be equally pleased. A memorable movie experience.
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Becker's Swan Song: Too Good To Be Just Another Prison Movie
Myshkin_Karamazov10 June 2008
Jacques Becker's swan song is a real gem of a film. Le Trou has such an amazing kinetic rhythm to it that one both feels and forgets the claustrophobic environs. Based on a real story turned into a novel by one of the "escapees", the film has excellent casting, wonderful (candel-lit!) cinematography and crisp dialog among its other advantages.

The director was terminally ill during the shoot and was to die after making the final cut. Watching this classic now some four decades since auteur's death, one can only wonder what an artist it would take to demand and achieve such breathtaking perfection in art while combating death at the same time.

Do not let yourself be put off by "yet another prison-movie!" talk. It is too good to be just that. So much so that it could merit comparison with Bresson's "A Man Escaped". A very deserving 10 out of 10.
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Jacques Becker's Lasting Opus
harry-7620 October 2000
Before his life was cut short prematurely, Director Jacques Becker created his very personal film, "Le Trou" ("The Hole"). Using mostly then nonprofessional actors, M. Becker elicited extremely naturalistic and powerful performances in a reportedly true-life prison-escape drama set in France.

It was especially interesting to see Marc Michel in his film debut. Made four years before Michel scored a hit as Roland in "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg," Michel here subtely creates a fascinating character. His work is seemingly effortless, yet always intriguing. He stands at the center of a group of convicts planning a daring escape--a group which has difficulty in fully trusting his loyalty.

The routine of prison life as well as the actual escape is done with such detail that the viewer feels part of the action. The black-and-white photography enhances the realism of the presentation, done without a musical background.

Generally a "forgotten film," "Le Trou" is a carefully constructed prison drama, most convincingly executed. It is a credit to both a hard working cast and director.
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The final hole was a manhole.
dbdumonteil18 December 2003
Immediate background:Jacques Becker was dying when he filmed "le trou,and he made it his legacy;it's the tragedy of man caught on the web of life -an admirable metaphor shows two wardens feeding a spider in the undergrounds with a fly-,and anyway unable to escape from the final death.

The first thing to bear is mind is that,calling "le trou" a "prison movie" would be an insult.Although adapted from a Jose Giovanni's book -Giovanni had been himself in jail for some time and his depictions are as close to reality as can be-,Becker masterfully transcends his subject and gives something definitely new.Some said it was the final link between "la nouvelle vague" and what the highbrows pejoratively -and thoroughly unfairly- call "cinema de qualité" but Becker had predated that overrated new wave by almost ten years :"rendez-vous de juillet" had already almost everything the young Turks would bring later.

First shock is the use of the wide screen,the cinemascope,which Becker had never experimented before;and he achieved the impossible: using this device for a story which takes place ,either in the four walls of a jail,or in the undergrounds and the sewers .The only picture of the outside is seen when the two inmates open a manhole.And the second one is the sound:there's no music at all,except for the final cast and credits -saving the cast and credits for the end was very rare in the contemporary French cinema -But the soundtrack resembles some kind of musique concrete with its relentless thumps, the whispers and the screams inside the cell,the creaking of the doors ,the waters in the sewer;and the final cacophony -which is not unlike the one which Manliewicz used in "suddenly last Summer" the year before- packs a real wallop.

Another Becker's tour de force is his description of the prison life:he avoids all the clichés that mar so many "prison movies" (the overpraised "Whatsisname redemption" is no exception):here, the wardens are,most of the time ,kind and friendly,the relationships with the inmates remain polite ,maybe sometimes too much:particularly those between the young man (Marc Michel) and the head warden are almost paternalistic.

Another Becker's permanent feature comes back to the fore in "le trou" :friendship,solidarity ,which was already present in "rendez-vous de juillet" and "touchez pas au grisbi".Here it's pure manly friendship and it seems that a certain misogyny is infiltrating Becker's world:during the 2 hours + running time of the movie,we only see one young girl (Catherine Spaak) behind a grille,for a very short while.The only positive woman whom we' ll never see is (naturally) one of the five inmates ' s(Michel Constantin) mother("I almost killed her when I was sent to jail so I do not want to take a chance and try to escape")

SPOILER:But even this world where five inmates share everything,where their friendship is "more than I 've ever had "(Marc Michel's character) is collapsing;the first cracks were already here in "rendez-vous de juillet" when some of the young students were giving up on their plans ,to the main hero's (Daniel Gelin)disappointment.But "touchez pas au grisbi" took friendship over everything including money."Le trou" reveals the true nature of man,even if the informer seems completely desperate at the end of the movie.The mammoth task they did ,the hole '(le trou) is nothing but a cul-de -sac and it epitomizes,in a Hustonian way -we're closer to Huston than to Godard ,fortunately,the vanity of everything man can do to escape from his fate,and in the case of Becker ,to escape from death.END OF SPOILER

Had Becker ended his career with his three precedent movies (Ali-Baba,Arsène Lupin ,Montparnasse 19),his former masterpieces (Casque d'or,Goupi Main Rouges ,rendez-vous de juillet),could have been tarnished by association.But "Le trou" ,his final masterpiece stands in little danger of bringing this about.
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God is in the details.
muddlyjames4 February 2002
This most powerful of escape stories is a wonderful exposition of the most basic human qualities, ingenuity and cooperation, and the innate drive toward freedom that brings these qualities into being.

While the theme of transcendence is certainly present (although not be-labored) as in A MAN ESCAPED, it is interesting that, in direct contrast to Bresson's work, transcendence is here achieved through work WITH others on a task. The inmates form a unique brotherhood through their joint reliance. This allows them to be IN the prison while not OF it and is quietly visible from the early moments of the film. We see this group bond deepened through each risk taken, each chisel blow against a concrete wall, and we become emotionally tied to the characters' quest simply through observing their effort (it is amazing how dramatic hammering away at a concrete wall can be). No verbal exposition is necessary, no creation of characters and their pasts intrudes to distract us from their task, which IS the drama.

Indeed Becker's film is as notable for what is left out as for what is included. There are no prison "types" created, his style is restrained to the point of being transparent, not to the point of calling attention to itself as "bare" or "ascetic" as Bresson's is. We get no exposition of the horrors of prison life; just enough detailing of the regimentation, drabness of environment, and lack of personal space to make us aware of the institution's suffocating presence. There are no sudden surprises or plot shifts. Well, maybe one. The shot in the mirror near the end of the film is so surprising that I literally couldn't take it in for a few seconds, I thought it had to be a dream: that's how involved with the characters I was! Finally, there is no use of music to pump up the suspense. There IS, however, a powerful and unique use of sound. We hear, in an almost hallucinatory fashion, every thump, clang, and wail within the prison walls and, during the digging scenes, Becker apparently uses a dual soundtrack combining naturalistic sound with heightened effects of the digger's grunts, heavy breathing, and THUMPS of metal against rock. Again this serves to effectively involve us with physical/emotional effort of their task. The cacophony the end of the film harshly accents our sense of disturbance and loss.

It is also worth noting that the apparent "innocent" in the film is the only one who does not achieve transcendence. While he may legitimately gain his freedom, he remains locked within the bounds of his own ego ("poor Pierre" says the leader of the break). Another interesting contrast (reply?) to Bresson.

Altogether a powerful statement that humans at work can be intrinsically dramatic subject matter, that the most simple of subjects can be the most visually entrancing (and emotionally resonant) and a grand illustration of the maxim that "God (and/or art) is in the details". 10/10
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This is what an escape film should be like
matjusm26 October 2008
This is an excellent example of what a prison escape film (and it can be applied to almost any genre) should be like.

The plot is simple- a sympathetic young man is moved around to a new cell within a prison due to repair works. There he meets four men who after getting to know and trust him, introduce him to their plan- escape.

What I like most about this film is that there is no "bs". Instead, everything is very down to earth and always relating to the escape. There are no useless and annoying subplots, there is no dramatization (no music in the entire film), the characters don't get unrealistically emotional and instead everybody works rationally towards a common goal. The details of the escape are shown in full with no details of it being left on the editing room floor. Being able to see every detail of the escape made the film very realistic in my opinion and thereby a pleasure to watch.

This film is about a prison escape, not drama or emotions. If only more films were like this.
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The greatest film about prison life
taylor98852 September 2002
Le Trou played on TV the other night, and thus gives me a chance to evaluate it after 20 years or so. The direction is magnificent: Becker was a genius at refining the elements of the story down to a bare minimum. Space is used well; the close-ups of men banging on concrete with improvised tools in a cramped space are very effective, they look like burrowing animals. Ghislain Cloquet was a master of black-and-white camerawork; he shot Mouchette and Au hasard, Balthazar for Bresson, Nuit et brouillard for Resnais, Le Feu follet for Malle, all great films made greater by Cloquet's work.

The endless dull routine enlivened by subterfuge--stealing materials needed for digging and making puppets to stand in for sleeping prisoners is brilliantly captured. If the prisoners are bored, so are the staff--the warden is desperate for some conversation with Gaspard, or with anybody. Geo's problem is a little hard to understand, I thought he'd want to go through with the plan. Otherwise I rate it very highly indeed.
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Very gripping, claustrophobic, suspenseful, tension filled, meticulous n powerful prison break film
Fella_shibby4 April 2017
I saw this recently on a DVD. Had seen it in the early 90s on a VHS. Was dying to see this again. Had been on my radar for years. What an amazing piece of cinema this is. This is one of the most realistic, minimalist n detailed prison movie. Surprisingly the acting by all the inmates were very good considering most of em r non actors. The direction is superb. The movie was totally unpredictable with lots of suspense n tension throughout without any music. The tension in the film is sublime and at times unbearable. Every detail was properly shown. The black n white cinematography was top notch n boy the editing was crisp. I started this movie around 2 am n i never felt like yawning or distracted. Been taking creatine n was gulping too much water recently but never felt like pausing this film n going for a pee break. Was totally glued. This movie took away my sleep that i felt like writing a review immediately aft finishing it around 4 am. This movie is intense, claustrophobic, captivating, gripping n thrilling prison drama. Folks who haven't seen this shud avoid reading bah the plot. Jus knowing that it is a prison movie n inmates r planning to escape shud b suffice. One of the best thing in this movie is the bond between the inmates. Its about loyalty, bond, boldness, cooperation, hard work n friendship. The film lacks most prison film clichés. There are no sadistic prison guards, and all the prisoners seem like regular guys. This movie is based on a real life prison escape, co written by one of the person involved in the real event n another real life person who was involved in the escape acted as the leader/planner of the group. In one scene i was shocked to see Jean Keraudy (the planner's) hand. His fingers were amputated, telling us right away that he has lived a tough life. Definitely for fans of movies like A man escaped, Brute force, Shawshank redemption, The Great escape, etc..
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Absolutely stunning movie
arminio7 June 2002
I watched this masterpiece first time before 10 years and I was stunned. Now, I watched it before few days again and I am really surprised how this remarkable movie functions and become better and better. It is really ingenious portrait of human interaction and cooperation, great "prison-escape" drama that bring us unique way of telling story (in long shots) looking so realistic and powerful.

One of the best movies I've ever seen!

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Breaking free
overseer-316 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Le Trou (1960) is the best prison escape film I've ever seen. It has a documentary type feel to it, with crisp, creative black and white cinematography, no musical soundtrack (except for end credits), a tight script and thoughtful characterizations. Le Trou will be sure and impress the true cinephile with its unique vision about human nature, friendship, and betrayal.

The film begins with a non-professional actor, Jean Keraudy, introducing his apparently true story of an escape experience at Le Sante Prison in Paris in 1947. This was the only film Keraudy ever made, and look closely: two fingers on his left hand are amputated, telling us right away that he has lived a tough life. He is a completely natural presence in the film, and the ringleader for the attempted prison break. In fact early on in the story it is mentioned that his character, Roland, has attempted several other escapes in the past, and it's curious with that background why prison officials would have not kept him in solitary confinement, or kept him under closer watch than normal. They put him instead with 3 other men in one cell and to that they suddenly add yet a 5th inmate, a handsome young man named Gaspard (played by Marc Michel of Lola and Umbrellas of Cherbourg fame) accused of trying to kill his wife with a gun.

Was Gaspard an unwitting plant right from the beginning, a man the prison warden knew would crumble eventually if he saw a chance to save his own neck from the noose? Was he deliberately removed from his prior cell and placed in Roland's cell by the warden? The other prisoners, Manu (played brilliantly by lithe but rugged Philippe Leroy in his first film role), Raymond Manieur as the "Monseigneur", and Michel Constantin as Jo Casseine, along with Roland, have to make a decision whether or not to trust this new 5th inmate to their cell with their secret plans. They decide to trust him since he's in for attempted murder and would have a good reason to escape, but the audience is more wary of Gaspard during the course of the film than his cell occupants are. Perhaps they should not have trusted him, after he mentions he betrayed his wife with a 16 year old minor, for if a man will betray his wife he is sure to betray other people in his life as well.

Le Trou should never be shown to any present day prison populations! It provides too many cool ideas about how to escape. Using their own ingenuity they make tools out of common objects in their cell, and take turns digging out into the sewers below. In one incredible scene Roland and Manu have broken through and two guards show up but don't notice them because Manu climbs on top of Roland's shoulders and as the guards walk by they slowly walk around a beam and camouflage themselves! It's brilliant scenes like this that keep the audience fascinated in this film. It's impossible to fall asleep on Le Trou!

As stated by others, the director of this film, Jacques Becker, died only two weeks after completing it. Perhaps in a way he chose this "breaking free" prison story as his swan song because he knew his own end was near and he was contemplating "breaking free" of his illness and this life and entering another, perhaps better, world.

The ending of Le Trou is shocking and made my heart race! This is a great classic. The Criterion disc print is excellent. Highly recommended.

10 out of 10.
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RodrigAndrisan9 November 2017
This film is absolutely exceptional, from all points of view: story, actors, director, cinematography, everything. If you like movies with action in prisons, this is the best of all. And the most realistic (the script is inspired by a true story). Although static, because all the action is taking place in a prison cell, the film has great tension and is watching with the soul to the mouth. Michel Constantin and Philippe Leroy in their best roles. Great, great film!
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"I don't trust strangers,and what a stranger!"
morrison-dylan-fan31 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
During the bank holiday I decided to look online for any special DVD deals. Being a big fan of their Casque D'Or and Touchez Pas Au Grisbi presentations,I was thrilled to find Studiocanal's DVD of auteur film maker Jacques Becker at a great price,which led to me jumping into the hole.

The plot:

Sent to prison after accidentally (not fatally!) shooting his wife during a row, Claude Gaspard is welcomed into a prison filled to the brim. With there being no free cells left,Gaspard is chucked in with Roland Darban/Manu Borelli/Monseigneur and Jo Cassine. Breaking the ice,the guys reveal that they are each serving 10-20 year jail term. Hearing Gaspard talk about his possible 10 year term,the group decide to reveal their secret:They plan to escape the jail. Given the job of watchmen,Gaspard watches the guards go by,as the team dig a hole into their sentences.

View on the film:

Completed just two weeks before he died, (after which producer Serge Silberman cut 24 minutes from the cut,that remain lost) co- writer/(with Jean Aurel and José Giovanni) director Jacques Becker (whose son Jean has a cameo) & cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet play an extraordinary crescendo to Becker's pessimistic Noir universe. Re-creating the real prison for this "ripped from the headlines" tale,Becker lingers on each layer of the hole to dig into the dirt of the cell,with the clever move to not have a score leading to the industrial tools being the only sound in the cramped cell.

Limiting the feminine touch to an uncredited appearance from a feature film debuting Catherine Spaak, Becker (who used the widescreen format for the first time)and Cloquet caves in the pent- up adrenaline with tightly coiled shots in the jail,which break up into a hole of ultra-stylised reflecting shots and dives across the prison sewers,as the team see daylight shining from the isolation. Working with most of the real inmates as "advisors",Becker and his fellow writers brilliantly gather the Noir and non-Noir creations of auteur Becker,via Gaspard being the youthful,loved-up outsider who follows Becker's Rendezvous in July and Antoine and Antoinette,who teams up with a "family" of working class Noir loners who drill into the family roots of Becker's It Happened at the Inn and the life of crime smarts of Becker's Touchez Pas au Grisbi,as Jacques Becker unlocks the Noir cells for the final time.
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Minimalist and yet double layered
Eightythreeyearoldguy20 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is in a class with such top drawer prison films as ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ and COOL HAND Luke with a touch of RIFIFI.

This is a no frills movie. No music. No subplots. Just the bare and raw tale of a meticulously planned jail break.

On the other hand, as others have pointed out, there is a symbolic story of our society, of the working man class contrasted with the monied upper class.

The initial group of four men are plotting an escape when an unexpected fifth prisoner is placed in their cell. There's suspicion at the first, but the fifth is ultimately accepted and let in on the planned escape.

There are questions here. Could there have been a suspicion by the authorities of a possible break, and was Gaspard, without his knowledge, deliberately placed with the others as a possible weak link? This is a definitive jail break film, quite highly recommended.
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THE limited possibilities of making drama out of
bazarov2423 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
THE limited possibilities of making drama out of attempted prison breaks have been worked so often and so astutely in the congenial medium of films that it is amazing to find the subject handled again with genuine tension and even some originality. Yet that is what the late Jacques Becker had done in his last French film, "The Night Watch".

Exercising the greatest economy of situation and character, which is to say that he has fetched his whole drama from five men in a Santé Prison cell, he has worked up a "big house" cliff-hanger that throbs with excitement and suspense and, at the same time, offers some stabbing insights into the anxieties and energies of imprisoned men.

His story, derived from a novel by José Giovanni entitled "Le Trou" ("The Hole"), which in turn was based upon an actual attempted escape from the famous Paris jail, is simply that of the daring, tedious labors through which his five prisoners go in hacking and sawing and digging a complicated escape route out of their common cell.

It is a standard dramatic sequence of familiar prison-escape incidents, such as the first uncertain maneuver of chopping a way through the concrete cell floor, then finding a way out of the chamber into which they unwittingly drop, and then on through the dark and twisting passages of underground corridors and sewers. All the perilous digging and exploring are done at night, with the men idling by day in their cell.

But Mr. Becker and those who worked with him have done such a studied, skillful job of documenting the details of this sequence with such brilliant photographic exactitude that the viewer is quickly pulled into the adventure and made to feel a very participant in it.

For instance, the task of hacking through the concrete floor is not a passing effort that is told with a quick few shots and a few dissolves. It is made a tremendous labor of many minutes (that seem endless hours) of hacking and scooping out debris while one of the men watches for the guards and all exhaust themselves completely before the hole is broken through.

Mr. Becker has used the technique of close-ups to great effect. Iron doors and locks picked out in the darkness by the flickering light of a cellmade candle loom large. Faces and hands laboring diligently are expressive of massive toil in the close view. So immediate is the contact of the audience with the job that one can often expect his own forehead to break out in a hot or cold sweat.

The actors, none of whom are familiar, play their roles with such simple, natural force that they become not only bold adventurers but also deeply appreciable friends. Jean Keraudy and Philippe Leroy are the intrepid leaders of the group. Raymond Meunier and Michael Constantin are the gangsters and clowns. And Mark Michel is the young fellow who has the toughest time of establishing himself with his cellmates and has to bear the brunt of an ironic plot-twist at the end. Minor roles of guards and wardens are played convincingly.

This is obviously the sort of melodrama that will never be confused with the works of the French New Wave, but it should engross those who like straight torment.

The English subtitles are good.
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One of the Best (if not The Best) Films of Prison and Betrayal
claudio_carvalho24 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
In 1947, in La Santé Prison in Paris, the inmate Claude Gaspard (Mark Michel) is transferred to the cell of Geo Cassine (Michel Constantin), Roland Darbant (Jean Keraudy), Manu Borelli (Philippe Leroy) and Vossellin a.k.a. Monseigneur (Raymond Meunier). Gaspard befriends the four cell-mates that sooner disclose to him that they have long sentences and they have plotted an escape plan from the prison. Gaspard joins the quartet, digging a tunnel through the sewage system. One the day that they are ready to go, Gaspard is called to the warden's office and learns that his wife has dropped her accusation against him. He stays for two hours with the warden (André Bervil) and when he returns to the cell, his mates have serious suspicions about what he had talked to the warden.

"Le Trou" is one of the best (if not the best) films of prison and betrayal. The story is extremely realistic and has no clichés and does not provide information from the past of the prisoners. But show their skills with tools, transforming simple objects in useful tools to accomplish their goal. The most impressive is that they are really digging concrete and cleaning their mess, showing that the cell-mates might have come from the working-class. The conclusion…well, see it and fell what I (and certainly most of the viewers) have felt with this awesome film. My vote is ten.

Title (Brazil): "A Um Passo da Liberdade" ("At One Step to Freedom")
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The 1947 Escape Attempt At La Sante Prison.
Spikeopath20 April 2014
Le Trou (The Hole) is directed by Jacques Becker and adapted to screenplay by Becker, Jose Giovani and Jean Aurel from Giovani's own novel. It stars Michel Constantin, Jean Keraudy, Philippe Leroy, Raymond Meunier, Marc Michel and Jean-Paul Coquelin.

Jacques Becker's last film before he would pass away shortly after the film's completion, is a tightly wound prison procedural that deals in grim realism and claustrophobic sparsity. There's no prison movie clichés here, there's no sadistic prison staff, no Mr. Big who is in with the wardens and demands money with menace, and no rapists hovering about the place to seize by force and break the last inch of spirit of the victim, this is as pure and unfussily raw as it gets.

Based on a real escape attempt at La Sante Prison in 1947, story has four men in a cell plotting to escape via digging a hole in their cell. When construction work within the prison means a number of prisoners have to be relocated, the four men are a bit perturbed to find they have another inmate thrust into their already overcrowded cell. While of course there's the small matter of the escape attempt that's planned, will they be able to trust the newcomer? Will he join in and help? Pertinent questions hang heavy in the sweaty air.

Once Claude Gaspard (Michel) arrives in the cell, the narrative initially operates on a cat and mouse basis as the men sound out the newcomer. There's no histrionics, no threats of violence, an enforcement of machismo to intimidate the new cell mate, just human interaction with viable concerns. Much of these passages pulse with atmosphere as the men talk in hushed tones, or just exchange glances, and then once an accord is reached, all parties are comfortable with each other, it's time to put the escape plan into action.

What follows is quite simply engrossing suspense as Becker deals in long takes of silence punctuated by animal strength as the men pound on concrete with metal. The camera stays static, filming as if in real time, the sound department ramp up the volume to splinter the ears. We observe as the men fashion devices to aid their escape and to remain undetected, some of it genius in its simplicity. And all the while there is the feeling of trust, a bond between the incarcerated males, where the two lead off men are entrusted to go out and beyond the bowels of the prison, working tirelessly in charting the course through a maze of murky masonry, and to then return back to "HQ" for some rest and updates of the progress…

The use of non professional actors works brilliantly, adding further realism to the story, with one of them, Jean Keraudy, a bona fide prisoner from the actual event back in 1947. There's no music here, it isn't needed to emphasise or manipulate a scene, none more so with the denouement, a closure of some emotional magnitude, and once again it's without histrionics, and once again it works brilliantly. 9/10
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Le Trou: one of those "prison films" which one must watch more than once.
FilmCriticLalitRao18 November 2013
It is known to everybody that human beings long for freedom more than anything else in the world. This is why everybody wants to experience liberty and would go to any extent to be free ! It is around this universally accepted theme that "Le Trou" was made by Jacques Becker. It is also a first rate "Prison Film" for which film director Jean Becker collaborated with his father. Contrary to commonly accepted public opinions, Jacques Becker showed that even criminals are soft targets when they work as a team. They are so sure of themselves that many a times they fail to anticipate that they would be ignominiously betrayed by somebody whom they had trusted. It is a common tendency in Hollywood films to portray policemen as firm, harsh, soft and wary as prisoners might try to influence them. However, policemen in France are known for their sense of humor as they make it a point to act as middlemen in order to avoid violence. American films have too much violence but 'Le Trou' depicted a different type of violence-it is the violence which is unleashed when some plumbers steal their personal stuff.
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One of the best prison films ever
runamokprods26 December 2011
A unique prison escape film, full of very specific, realistic details and devoid of almost any prison movie clichés. The characters all prove more complex then we assume at first glance. Perhaps that's because it's based on a true story.

In fact the cast are all non-pros, and one was actually involved in the real escape plan.

I was lukewarm while I watched the body of the film, but by the end it had an emotional and intellectual effect far more powerful than I expected. There were a couple of illogical moments that made me wonder if the real story was being followed honestly. But, ultimately that didn't really matter. Whatever the blend of truth and fiction this is a tense, powerful, entertaining film, one of the better prison films ever made.
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Still Fresh
princebansal198230 June 2011
Le Trou is an amazing movie that is as fresh as when it was released more than 50 years ago. I have seen my share of prison escape movies but none have been able to come close to this in showing the nitty-gritty of the mechanics of escape.

As the movie starts you are aware that you are watching something very different. In start everything seems to play in real-time. And when the digging for escape starts we are aware that these are not just actors who are pretending to dig or just removing the soft soil. They are actually breaking through the floor. Maybe to some it may not sound like much but after watching so many movies, still getting this amazed by something is a high point for me.

Jacques Becker actually employed ex-convicts who tried the escape as technical experts in the movie and it shows. Everything is painstakingly detailed and real. While many things are shown in real-time, the movie is an edge of seat thriller where you always get a sense of foreboding. There are many close brushes.

I loved it from the start to the end. No clichés anywhere.
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Brilliant prison-break movie... and beautifully filmed
MurderSlimPress19 December 2010
LE TROU is based on the series noir novel by real-life ex-crim Jose Giovanni. Giovanni escaped from prison in 1947 (and was quickly re-captured) and LE TROU is an account of the break-out. It even goes as far as to cast one of Giovanni's fellow escapees in one of the parts - as "Roland" - in the movie.

LE TROU starts with four guys holed up in a jail cell built for just two, when yet another prisoner is shoved in with them. They're surprisingly friendly to the guy and the guards, eagerly accepting such exciting jobs as folding up cardboard boxes. Claude, the new guy, is a little uneasy... and begins to question them about it. They eventually reveal that they are planning an escape. The stacks of unfolded cardboard boxes are designed to cover the hole they intend to dig.

Other than Claude, the film is played by non-actors... which is often seen as a weird badge of honour with films (SOMERS TOWN etc.). Truth is, casting real people in roles often leads to disastrous movies. For every classic you remember (such as the real folks in WISE BLOOD) there's tens of terrible movies. Well, put LE TROU with one of the classics that pulls it off. Roland is particularly fascinating and apparently he was cast because he's really dexterous. He makes up a little mirror on a toothbrush in seconds, and that allows them to spy out of their cell's peephole to see if any guards are approaching.

The movie is full of little moments of clever touches and realism. One scene features their food packages being searched by a silent twerp with a knife on a bit of string. He slices open their care packages, their cheese, their bread, their pate (one guy gets fois gras!) to make sure there isn't anything inside them. In another scene the head guard turns a blind eye as the prisoners dispense a little justice to some prison plumbers who've stolen some of their food.

Even the bashing of the hole is very well handled. It won't be to everyone's taste - there's a lot of bashing and digging for much of the movie - but I loved that all the walls are very hard to break through. As with the guys breaking into somewhere in RIFIFI, the process is painstakingly real. And because it's so deafening and time-consuming (especially at first), you get involved with the fears of the escapees. Will the guards hear? This noise is then contrasted with incredibly quiet scenes as they try to hide from guards, magnifying the impact of each state.

The prisoners are very sympathetic. Monsignor is the funny one, Geo the tough one, Manu the leader, Roland the brains. But each character's depth grows throughout. Only Claude - as the new guy - is a little shifty, but - as he starts to pull his weight - he gradually becomes more likable. Apart from Claude's crime (accidentally shooting his wife in the shoulder), the others never reveal what they've done... you just know they're pulling long stretches. But what's also interesting - and maybe this is why they're likable - is that they never bitch that they're innocent. They accept the situation they're in, and their own fault in it. They don't want forgiveness... they just want to escape.

I watched this off the back of watching Becker's equally strong TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI, and it's worth putting these (slightly lesser known) films up there with some of the other great French 50s classics... RIFIFI, DIABOLIQUES, WAGES OF FEAR etc. These French guys were really chugging out some movies in the 50s that were the match of the great American noirs of the era. Go on, get your reading glasses on and give a chance to subtitled noir classics like LE TROU.
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Minimalist film making at its very best.
nastyw212 March 2009
THE HOLE is one of the finest directorial accomplishments in any genre and a thoroughly entertaining experience for even the crudest of movie goers.

A case in point. One sequence spends a very, very long time observing the men hammering away at their concrete tomb, swing after swing after swing. Nothing else happens. It's a classic recipe for audience disconnect or worse....until the sound of the hammer hitting the concrete begins to take over the scene, the percussive beat of the hammers filling the sequence and evolving into an engrossing, rhythmic soundtrack that replaces one's heartbeat and glues every bit of the viewer's attention to the screen.

I've never encountered such an effect from any other film.

You MUST see this film.
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Well made and realistic....but not exactly my cup 'o tea.
MartinHafer31 August 2011
"Le Trou" begins with a new cell mate being moved to a new cell in the prison. Apparently they were doing some work in his cell and he and his cell mates were all split up and moved to new quarters. However, the guys already occupying the room have a secret--they've got a reasonably complicated escape plan. At first, they are apprehensive to let him in on the deal but soon realize that they are stuck with him and cannot proceed unless he, too, is part of their plan. The rest of the film consists of a meticulous and slow depiction of their tunnel. If you like heist films that show long and detailed plots, then this one is for you.

Is this 'the greatest French film'? Probably not. But I could certainly see why Jean Pierre Melville would adore this movie, as its style is so close to his I might have believed he directed it--had I not known that it was actually directed by Jacques Becker. Like so many Melville films, this one excels in the realism department. And, like Melville, it's about crooks--and the film really focuses on them almost at the exclusion of all else. Now this sort of film does have one inherent problem--if you want to see a film where you can like the characters, then you'll have a hard time with this one. That's because the protagonists are all guys doing time in prison--so they are not exactly angels! As for me, I respected the film more than I liked the film. Simply put, I have seen several other prison films I have enjoyed more. Still, it's well worth seeing---particularly if you like French films, neo-realism (as the actors were real people--including some of the guys involved in the REAL escape about which this film is made) or prison flicks, then you'll most likely enjoy this film.
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