Classe tous risques (1960)
Directed by Claude Sautet
Thursday, August 2 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Claude Sautet: The Things of Life"
Based on a Série noire novel by co-adapter Jose Giovanni, Classes tous risques is a superior film noir. The film is essentially a ruminative film-long chase: young Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo) must help wanted thief Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) escape the authorities as Davos makes his way back to his native France. Davos cannot completely trust Eric however—understandably, since almost everyone's allegiances in Classes tous risques are determined by convenience.
Pretty much all of Davos's old friends are either liabilities or potential traitors. Some of them have gone straight, some of them just want to avoid the police, but all of them have to consider the implications of helping Davos. And while everyone may want to honor their commitment to Davos, inevitably, every man has to fend for himself.
So the typical pose of men in Classes tous risques , in which director Claude Sautet shrewdly pays close attention to his actors' body language, is a pensive reverie. This is especially striking in Ventura's case, since Abel has to make plans on the fly. The scene in which he explains to his two young sons an improvised plan, them walking behind him at a measured distance of ten yards, is especially moving. The sequence is short, but it's indicative of how everything seems to click into place here: the dialogue is suitably tense and believably to the point, Ventura's performance is typically stirring and Sautet's use of close-ups is very effective. It's no wonder that Jean-Pierre Melville was an ardent admirer of Classes tous risques: Sautet's film is a high watermark of cinematic pulp fiction.