Classe tous risques [DVD]
Director : Claude Sautet
Screenplay : Claude Sautet and José Giovanni and Pascal Jardin (dialogue by José Giovanni; based on his novel)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1960
Stars : Lino Ventura (Abel Davos), Sandra Milo (Liliane), Jean-Paul Belmondo (Eric Stark), Marcel Dalio (Arthur Gibelin), Michel Ardan (Riton Vintran), Simone France (Therese Davos), Michèle Méritz (Sophie Fargier), Stan Krol (Raymond)
Although he would go on to become a highly respected director in France, Claude Sautet’s feature directorial debut, Classe tous risques, didn’t jump-start his career in the manner in which it probably should have. A low-key, intimate portrait of a former gang leader trying to evade capture, it is a thoughtful character study of a dangerous man struggling to maintain his freedom and feeling the increasing weight of the price paid by those around him. It is, by all measures, a highly accomplished film with a deft sense of character and location, but it was largely overshadowed by the emerging French New Wave, which featured the flashy aesthetics of a group of vocal critics-turned-directors who naturally stole the spotlight. Sautet even lost out on getting credit for introducing the world to Jean-Paul Belmondo, since Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless premiered a month earlier and staked claim to the emerging star’s revelation.
To some extent, it is understandable that Sautet’s film fell into the shadows. Although stylishly shot in black and white with a mixture of handheld neorealism and dramatic close-ups, it does not have the flash or pizzazz that audiences seemed to be looking for in the early ’60s. While Saudet opens the film with an exciting robbery and chase sequence, it establishes generic expectations that the rest of the film’s intense character study consistently denies. In some ways, the film is a bit too nuanced and measured in its pacing, which has the effect of drawing us deep into the world of the characters, but at the expense of conventional tension and suspense (in this respect, it plays much like one of the moody gangster think-pieces by Jean-Pierre Melville, who not surprisingly was one of Saudet’s great admirers).
Both gruff and somehow sad, Lino Ventura stars as Abel Davos, the former gang leader who has been hiding out in Italy after being sentenced to death in absentia. When the film opens, he, his wife (Simone France), and their two young children are preparing to flee Italy for Paris. They are helped by Abel’s partner, Raymond (Stan Krol), whose Lee Marvin-esque mug assures us that he is both tough and clever. However, the escape does not go as well as planned, and several tragic deaths strand Abel in Paris with a dwindling sense of hope. Rather than help him directly, Abel’s former associates send Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a young thief and driver who becomes his guardian of sorts, although his attention is soon diverted by Liliane (Sandra Milo), a beautiful actress whom he saves from a beating by her manager. Meanwhile, Abel must cope not only with holing up in various hotel rooms and back alleys while evading the increasingly tight police net being cast around him, but there is also potential betrayal among those he trusts, which eventually leads him to take his fate into his own hands.
In one sense, Classe tous risques plays as an existential parable, casting Abel as a man whose life is constantly the responsibility of others, which frequently causes them pain and suffering. Abel is tragic in that he continues to stand tall while those around him fall, which complicates the film’s sad ending with an empowering sense of his finally making his fate his own. Sautet clearly has sympathy for his protagonist, even if Abel is a career criminal and killer whose actions become steadily more violent as the desperation of his situation grows. Yet, he has a certain nobility that comes from his sense of honor and loyalty, and when that is betrayed by his former associates, it has a personal sting that cuts him to the bone. He’s not quite a relic, but he’s close and he knows it.
Belmondo’s character makes for an interesting foil because we see in him a younger version of Abel, albeit one who still has the chance to make something different of his life and avoid the older man’s life sentence, literally and figuratively. His relationship with Abel is the film’s moral center, balancing the violence and betrayal around them with a sense of both loyalty and affection that also gives the film a surprisingly emotional undercurrent. The conventional movie romance may be between Stark and Liliane, but the real love is between the two men, which is articulated in that most masculine of codes: their actions.
|Classe tous risques Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||June 17, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Criterion’s new high-definition anamorphic transfer was taken from the original 35mm camera negative and a 35mm fine-grain master positive and digitally restored by the MTI Digital Restoration System to a nearly pristine state. The black-and-white image, despite being nearly half a century old, looks close to flawless, with excellent contrast, great detail, and solid blacks throughout. No signs of age or artifacting to be found. The monaural soundtrack, transferred at 24-bit from a 35mm optical track print and the original 17.5mm magnetic tracks, has also been digitally restored and sounds excellent for its age.|
|The supplements are fairly brief, but quite illuminating. You can start with eight minutes of excerpts from the well-received 2003 feature documentary Claude Sautet ou la magie invisible (Claude Sautet or the Invisible Magic) by critics N.T. Binh and Dominique Rabourdin, which features interviews with many of the people who knew and worked with Saudet, as well as audio interviews with the director. For this DVD, Binh went back to the raw footage with novelist and screenwriter José Giovanni from 2002 and cut together a 12-minute interview in which he discusses the real-life inspiration for Abel Davos. There is also an archival French television interview with actor Lino Ventura from 1960 and the original French and U.S. release trailers. The insert booklet contains essays by director Bertrand Tavernier and N.T. Binh, a reprinted 1994 interview with Sautet, and a 1962 tribute by Jean-Pierre Melville (who takes a few potshots at the French New Wave).|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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