If you think that black and white movies are outdated or boring, Le Trou AKA The Hole will definitely change your mind. It’s one of those movies that just blew me away and instantly became the next movie I constantly recommend to people. A timeless masterpiece that will still be relevant long after we’re all dead. It might be the first in a long line of prison escape movies since The Great Escape was released some three years later. Stalag 17 and A Man Escaped were released earlier but they never really honed in on this specific vibe. And in thirteen years, Papillon will set the standards with another harrowing true story.
Yes, in case you had any doubts, Le Trou is based on an amazing true story. However, here, we have an addition of a guy who went through all this in a lead role! Jean Keraudy announces the movie and then proceeds to play Roland Darban, one of the prisoners involved in the escape. The filming must have been a surreal experience for him, having first been in the same situation years earlier. La Santé Prison was recreated down to the smallest detail with the help of not only Keraudy but also two other prisoners. Oozing with authenticity and realism, Le Trou is a phenomenal period movie. I was most surprised with the humane treatment of prisoners, a sign of a time long passed. Although, as we so learned in Papillon, all the worst criminals were sent to the French colonies.
The year is 1947 and things are pretty normal in the La Sante prison. Due to renovations in his cell block Gaspard, a mild-mannered and young inmate is moved to a new cell. There he will meet four experienced prisoners who seem to have something in common. And that something might just be Gaspard’s ticket out of the prison…
Le Trou really has everything. From an incredible story, sets and actors to director Jacques Becker who died shortly after the movie was completed. One of the best French directors ever Jean-Pierre Melville regarded this as one of the greatest French films ever made. The scene where the four prisoners take turns breaking the concrete in their cell was a single shot lasting almost four minutes. They’ll be pounding their crude tools in your brain showing just how much brute force and determination it takes to break out. I don’t want to talk too much as this is an experience that’s best served with a healthy dose of mystery.
Compelling performances from mostly non-actors added even more gravitas to an already spectacular movie. They are masculine, rough and gritty so effortlessly that it’s simply unbelievable. You can feel that these men have been through a lot. And see also, as you might notice with our homeboy Keraudy, who had a pretty interesting life. Michel Constantin went on to act in a couple of high-profile noir movies with the rest of the gang also finding success in the cinema business. All of them lived to a long ripe old age, between 79 and fucking 90 with Philippe Leroy who played Manu still alive.
Finally, there are so many hidden and not so hidden messages in Le Trou that I wouldn’t dare to try and explain them all. It would take away from your viewing experience. Just pay attention to group dynamics, class structure and no-nonsense approach. Without much music or nuance, this is such an honest and compelling movie that it will stay with you for a long time. It can be considered a part of post-WWII French noir wave along with movies like Rififi, Bob le Flambeur, Elevator to the Gallows and Le Doulos. And if you’re looking for more movies about prison breaks I recommend you check out apart from above mentioned Papillon and The Great Escape, the following are also pretty good: Escape from Pretoria, Escape From Alcatraz, Celda 211, and miniseries Escape at Dannemora.
Director: Jacques Becker
Writers: Jacques Becker, José Giovanni, Jean Aurel
Cast: Michel Constantin, Jean Keraudy, Philippe Leroy, Raymond Meunier, Marc Michel, Jean-Paul Coquelin, André Bervil
Fun Facts: The soundtrack to this film is entirely Diegetic (the source of every sound is visible, or occurs on screen)