Directed by Claude Sautet
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 108 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 mono French
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Review Date: June 6, 2008
A feeling of doom permeates most of Claude Sautet’s Classe Tous Risques even though the film’s story skillfully (for the most part) blends a crime, an escape, a shootout, and the subsequent sequestering and attempts to remain alive. Surprisingly, even with all this activity, the film is primarily a character study of two individuals, strangers at first but who grow in friendship even as the dragnet is pulled ever tighter. It’s a distinctive film study of friendship, betrayal, and loss and one that took me completely by surprise.
Abel Davos’ (Lino Ventura) criminal career has been in the decline for awhile, so he needs a really big score to set himself and his family up for a long time. He and fellow thief Raymond Naldi (Stan Krol) ambush two Milan bank couriers they think are carrying several million lire, and they do end up with about half a million along with an entire police force on their tails. Davos’ situation is compounded by a wife (Simone France) and two young boys who have been sent ahead to wait on their father and his partner, but once they arrive, it’s a trial to get everyone to safety. Not all make it out of Italy alive. Holed up in Nice, Davos sends word to his friends (Michel Ardan, Claude Cerval) in Paris asking for help (he had been instrumental in helping them in the past), but as assisting him personally to get out of Nice and into Paris is everything from inconvenient to impossible for them, they arrange to send a stranger (Jean-Paul Belmondo) with an elaborate scheme to rescue him. The frantic rescue and its aftermath provide the film with a surprisingly effective balance of thrills, intimacy, and even an unexpected romance.
Classe Tous Risques was Sautet’s first feature film as the director having served as assistant director on numerous previous films, and he certainly learned from his previous masters. With all of the diverse scenarios at play here (robbery, escape, romance, confrontations with the law and with alleged friends), Sautet’s direction is sure and steady making the film‘s 108 minutes fly by and keeping us always on edge as to the fates of the protagonists. These are thieves, and we’re never quite sure what fate awaits them. Added to this is the undeniable tone of desperation, and you have a movie that’s compelling and, well, breathless in its suspense. José Giovanni (along with director Sautet and Pascal Jardin) adapted his novel for the screen extracting the essence of the gangster’s downward spiral making the film a taut thriller with a definite emphasis on character, a truly unique combination of action and personality. The ending may be a bit too abrupt after what has gone before, but that’s about the only flaw in an otherwise masterful screenplay.
Jean-Paul Belmondo wasn’t a star when this film first appeared (Breathless hadn’t yet opened), and the film’s initial release was a disappointment in terms of box-office. Two years later after Belmondo was a star, the film was re-released to much acclaim and great box-office success. Yet, the charisma is all there from the moment he appears in his first shot. His cool, effortless demeanor rivets the screen, and only an actor as powerful as Lino Ventura could have held his own sharing the frame with him. Ventura is magnetic whether roughing up uncooperative people, nuzzling his young sons, grieving over personal losses, or sizing up his situation during the film’s climactic passages. Certainly these two walk away with the picture even though they’re not the whole show. Marcel Dalio has a excellent supporting role as a weasely interior decorator out for vengeance, and Sandra Milo is heart-stoppingly gorgeous as Liliane, an actress who falls for Belmondo’s Eric Stark.
The film’s original 1.66:1 aspect ratio is delivered strongly in this anamorphic transfer. The grayscale is beautifully captured here with good black levels and excellent shadow detail. There is a surprising lack of age related artifacts present, and despite a few scenes with a lack of strong contrast and some unexpected softness, the images look excellent. The white subtitles are large enough and quite easy to read. The film is divided into 28 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono soundtrack is typical of its era, and there are a few moments of scratchiness though most of the audio is clear. Much of the location footage was shot silent with voices dubbed in later, always a problem in films of this vintage in making the audio not sound hollow and dry.
“Claude Sautet ou la Magic Invisible” is a 2003 documentary on the director featuring audio comments by Sautet and testimonials by many who worked with him including novelist/screenwriter José Giovanni and Sautet’s wife. It’s presented in nonanamorphic letterbox and lasts 8 minutes.
An interview with José Giovanni charts the course of his life, his term in prison, his work on the original novel and his subsequent condensation of it for film, and his experiences working with Claude Sautet. This 2002 interview is also in nonanamorphic letterbox and lasts 11 ½ minutes.
A series of 4:3 television interviews with actor Lino Ventura make for the longest bonus on the disc. The first interview done in 1960 directly addresses his work with Sautet in this film and one other and lasts 4 ½ minutes. A second montage of interviews covering many years finds the actor discussing his career and his work habits and lasts 9 ¼ minutes.
Two theatrical trailers are presented on the disc. The original French trailer runs 3 ¾ minutes while the American trailer (which promotes Belmondo to the star of the film, features horrendous dubbing for the French actors, and is called “The Big Risk”) runs 2 ½ minutes.
An enclosed 29-page booklet features a loving appreciation of the film and its maker by critic Bertrand Tavernier, an appraisal of Sautet’s directorial career by filmmaker N.T. Binh, a print interview with the director from the film’s re-release press book, and a brief tribute to Sautet by fellow director Jean-Pierre Melville.
Classe Tous Risques isn’t nearly as well known as the films of the same period produced by directors of the French New Wave, and yet it’s easily the equal of many of them, a tense, absorbing study of a gangster on the way out. It gets a strong recommendation from me.