When discussion turns to the greats of French film-making, the name Jacques Becker isn’t one which instantly springs to mind. Whilst Truffaut, Godard, Malle, Melville et al all attract swathes of devotees, Becker struggled to escape the shadow of his mentor, Jean Renoir. Whilst his peers established their own visual signatures, Becker preferred to focus on character. His refusal to stick to one genre was his great strength, but ultimately worked against him. Le Trou is arguably his greatest work.
When Gaspard (Marc Michel) is placed in their cell, the four incumbents (Michel Constantin, Jean Keraudy, Philippe Leroy and Raymond Meunier) are far from happy. They’re planning to escape by digging a tunnel and initially don’t trust their new cellmate. However, Gaspard, who is wrongly imprisoned on a charge of murder, soon wins them over. They put their scheme into action, gradually getting closer to their goal. As they near the end, Gaspard receives an offer from the director (André Bervil).
As prison escape movies go, there are few which can hold a torch to Le Trou. Becker makes full use of the confined quarters, using every conceivable shot and angle. There’s a watchful camaraderie between the men, and as the tension slowly rises the strain and pressure begins to tell. It’s a finely balanced plot which hinges on some great acting, astute pacing and inventive camerawork. Le Trou is a film about solidarity, liberty and fraternity; a riveting drama about trust, honour and betrayal.
The 4k restoration of Le Trou is released on DVD/Blu-ray/EST by Studiocanal on Monday 21 August.