In a Paris prison cell, five inmates use every ounce of their tenacity and ingenuity in an elaborate attempt to tunnel to freedom. Based on the novel by José Giovanni, Jacques Becker's Le Trou (The Hole) balances lyrical h... more »umanism with a tense, unshakable air of imminent danger.« less
A superb entertaining crime drama, and a true work of art
Toshifumi Fujiwara | Tokyo, Japan | 09/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Jacques Becker's LE TROU (THE HOLE) is one of the most intense, powerful and thrilling crime movie in film history.Men--convicts--in a prison cell plot a dynamic escape by digging a hole (hence the title) in their prison cell. This is the basic plot of it, that's all. And the dramatic arena is naturally very limited; basically everything in a confinement of a prison. The actions are also mainly limited to the act of digging.By deliberately limiting his cinematic palette to bare-bone simplicity, Jacques Becker weaves out a complex web of human camaraderie and conflicts. You have to trust one another to commit this kind of escape, but at the same time, can you really trust these fellow inmates? All the dramatic ellements concentrate into this fundamental question about human relationship. And from there florishies a stunning, awesome drama of wild, strong men, naturally with the currents of their own vulnerabilities underneath, which quite often finds its way to burst in front of your eyes.A superb ensemble cast including some of the finest character actors in french cinema and one man who actually experienced this story (Jean Keraudy, who introduces the film as his own story) creates an extraoridinary psychological as well as physical realism.And the harsh, stark black&white cinematography can be easily pointed out as one of the highest achievement in attempting to create an imediate realistic experience as a cinematic imagery in film history.In one word, this is a must see film, a masterpiece. Both an entertaining crime drama, and a true work of art.*note: jacaues becker used to be assitant director to jean renoir in the 1930's, and appears into films such as Boudu Saved from Drowning and Grand Illusion"
Klanging Rocks into Sublime Meditation
TUCO H. | Los Angeles, CA | 10/25/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Finally! Jacques Becker, one of the most underrated GREAT filmmakers ever, on Criterion DVD. "Le Trou" (the Hole) is a highly unconventional prison drama, a different variation on the 'honor among thieves' theme Becker used so effectively in his Rififi-Bob-le-Flambeur-inspiring-archetype gangster classic "Touchez Pas Au Grisbi." Here you get maybe the most Zen-like of all commercial cinema films, a radical departure from what Becker had done before in its restrained rather than extravagant style: 4 guys in a cell trying to dig a hole to freedom through a wall of rock, and THAT'S IT! But wait! This is REAL CINEMA, not the friggin' 'Great Escape'! Psychological complexity revealed through the camera that doesn't lie, as in EVERYTHING that goes on in their heads, not through any over-written dialogue, but by letting the cinema do the work: realistic reactions and gestures CAPTURED IN MAXIMUM REALNESS (of the slightly ramshakle French Prison variety, of course) from actors who have fully internalized these characters into an almost Robert De Niro level of Method Acting, without, I'm sure, being trained in any 'method nonsense' that would probably have confused the hell out of them unnecessarily (not surprisingly, one of them was a former inmate himself). Becker died tragically young right after the film was completed and was at the time married to the beautiful Algerian born French actress Francoise Fabian who later appeared most memorably in Eric Rohmer's classic "My Night At Maude's" as Maude. Truffaut and Godard and the rest of the French New-Wave directors who had just begun making their own films, inspired directly from the great, early, mostly anti-studio-system films of Becker (Goupi Mains Rouges, Antoine et Antoinette, Edward et Caroline, Rendez-vous in July) hailed "Le Trou" as an instant masterpiece and it has stood the test of time through the 40 years since, although very few Americans are familiar with it. "Le Trou" isn't my own personal favorite Becker film (I prefer Antoine et Antoinette & Rendez-vous in July), but it can justifiably be called his most accomplished: in fact, it can almost be called an avant-garde film in the way it klangs mercilessly on huge pieces of rock for long periods of time, as if a sublime meditation was in progress, and before you know it, you, the viewer are pulled into it: a laboratory experiment of the soul."
A GREATER ESCAPE
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 01/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Based on a true story, "LE TROU" is a 42 year old French thriller that is little known in the U.S. but is being (re)discovered by videophiles as a tense, sweat-inducing masterpiece. The plot is amazingly simple: Five guys in a prison cell awaiting trial, plot an escape by digging a hole ("le trou") into the Parisian sewers. The perfect black and white cinematography, the ultra minimalist plot, confined setting and shifting character relationships make this a kind of Zen noir meditation on the primal, universal, desire to be Free. Director Jacques Becker died shortly after this film was completed, and this is a fitting epitaph to a truncated prize-winning career. The film opens with a statement that removes all obstacles to suspending disbelief. Jean Keraudy, one of the real life participants of the events depicted in the movie, and an actor in the movie, says, "My Friend Jacques Becker recreated a true story in all its detail. My story. It took place in 1947 at the Santé prison." The thing that intrigued Becker was the ingenuity of the scheme and the courage of the undertaking. Three members of the original escape served as consultants and Keraudy himself plays the character Roland in the film. The suspense never lets up as we participate with these desperate, ingenious, meticulous, men as a collective force seeking freedom. There's a feeling of real time and no music score to enhance or detract. The DVD has no significant extras. The widescreen transfer is clean and sharp and the sound is crisp. It's in French with optional, easy to read subtitles and there's a six page booklet with two interesting essays. Thanks to Criterion, this great film has been plucked from obscurity, beautifully mastered, and is now finding the appreciative audience it deserves. Don't miss it."
An excellent film, with no melodrama, of five men in a Frenc
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 12/30/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To say this is the story of an attempted prison break-out does absolutely no justice to Le Trou, one of the great, subtle films of prison and men working together. Four men share a small cell in France's Santé Prison. There is Roland (Jean Keraudy), accepted by the others as their leader, a taciturn man who plans; Manu (Philippe Leroy), thoughtful but not one to let things slide by; Monseigneur (Raymond Meunier), more easy-going than the others; and Geo (Michel Constantin), who likes to prod and can use his fists. They all are tough men. Each is facing at least ten years in prison. Suddenly placed in their cell is the young Claude Gaspar (Marc Michel), something of an innocent who is charged with attempting to murder his wife. The four men now have a problem. Do they bring Gaspar into their secret? They plan to escape by digging through the concrete floor of their cell and into a sewer outlet, then through the dank basements of the prison, through another sewer line and out onto the streets. They have been planning this job meticulously and now are just about to start. They have no choice, so they bring Claude in. He agrees.
For the next two hours we watch these men, whose lives are controlled by the prison guards, hammer and tear through every obstacle they meet. They have to feign sleep and create dummies for the night-time prison checks. They make tools and a key, even a sand timer to tell time by. All the while they take turns pounding their way through stone walls and concrete floors. Becker's camera makes sure we see that the actors themselves are doing this brutal, grunting work. During all this punishing labor we begin to suspect that something isn't right. On one level, we know this is a movie and there can't be a simple, happy ending. But we also start noticing things. Someone may ask a question that seems unnecessary. Someone forgets a jacket and turns back to get it. It's apparent that Claude Garspar hasn't reached the same level of trust within the group that the other four have, but is this significant? All the while the clock is ticking and the men have no time; they must break through and get out before they are discovered.
I think the power of this film rests in two areas. First, there are no moral targets set up for us by the director and writer. There are no brutal guards and no brutal prisoners, just men doing what they are paid to do or told to do. In other words, there is no prison melodrama. Second, the movie seems to move at the pace of the five men. They have to keep going and we have to keep up with them. We see how they plan, how they improvise, how they do things. We also see how they have to live together in a small cell, brushing their teeth, urinating in an open toilet, being shaved in the hallway, sharing food packages and hunks of prison bread, undergoing cell searches with no warnings. It helps a great deal that Becker did not cast professional actors. We don't know these men, there's no film history, only what they do and say right now. The ending is not particularly bleak, unless you're a student of human nature, but because we've come to know these men it packs an emotional wallop.
The film was based on an attempted prison escape in France in 1947. Jean Keraudy, who plays Roland Darbant, was one of the prisoners who participated. After his release he earned his living as an auto mechanic. This is the only movie he ever made. Two of the other men who attempted the escape with him were hired by Becker as consultants. Much of the film was shot in the Santé Prison. This was Jacques Becker's last movie. The director of Casque d'Or and Touchez pas au Grisbi died of a heart attack two weeks after completing the film.
The Criterion DVD transfer is excellent. There are no extras. The DVD case contains an informative printed insert."
More than another "prison escape" film, much more!
C. O. DeRiemer | 01/20/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I really had (unfounded) doubts going into this DVD / film. I'm not sure why, perhaps because I've seen quite a few prison-escape type films (Alcatraz, The Rock, Stalag 17, The Great Escape, The Grand Illusion, The Shawshank Redemption) so I really didn't think there could be another, even though it came before most of the ones I mentioned, that could be that good. Well, I was happily surprised! This film is fantastic. Keep in mind that the director is very deliberate with the way he films scenes in that we see much more, the camera stays on the action much longer, than you might be used to. But this is a huge part of the overall effect and I think it works beautifully. I don't know about others but I really got a sense of claustrophobia while watching this film as so much of it is filmed "inside". I wish I could say more about it but I'm afraid of giving anything away. If you found yourself liking those other films I mentioned and you don't mind French dialog (perhaps you can play a dubbing track, can't recall) and black and white films, by all means check this one out - a bonafide cinematic classic!"