Le trou (“The Hole”)
Directed by Jacques Becker
#353 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
IMDb users say 8.3; I say 9.0
Jacques Becker’s meticulously wrought Le Trou does not need appealing characters to get an audience rooting for its prisoners. The director simply shows us prison conditions and the hard work and dedication of the men determined to escape its walls and we cannot help but wish them well. He packs in so much tension that the two-hour running time flies by.
Claude Gaspard is tranferred into the cell of four men who have lived together for some time. He is pending trial for attempted first-degree murder of his wife, which he claims was an accidental shooting during a scuffle after she drew a gun on him. While something seems slightly “off” about the more educated and wealthy Claude, the others decide they have no choice but to trust him and reveal their plans to tunnel out of jail.
The bulk of the movie simply follows the men working to carry out their plan without detection by the ever present prison guards. We get so much information on how the men make their escape tools that we could practically replicate their feat. At the same time, Becker shows us all the reasons prison is hell. My favorite illustration is when the guard searches Gaspard’s package of food. He takes the same dirty knife to cut through sausage and smoked fish that he uses to stir through the rice pudding. The feeling of violation is profound. There is no music and long periods without much dialog but I sat there rapt.
I loved the economy with which the characters were developed and the fascinating glimpse of the routines of prison life. Becker has also given an electrifying study of group dynamics. The actors were all new faces – in fact, one of the actors actually participated in the escape on which the story was based. You could not have proved that they had no prior experience by me. They were all superb. This was Becker’s last film and a fitting swan song.
Montage of clips (unfortunately no subtitles)