Eye For Film >> Movies >> Classe Tous Risques (1960) Film Review
Claude Sautet's ranging and enjoyably unpredictable crime drama was a victim of bad timing at its release, just as the full force of the New Wave was about to come crashing over French cinema courtesy of Breathless. But though more classically structured than what was to come from the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Eustache, there is a similar loose, on-the-hoof feel, particularly in early scenes involving a robbery on the streets of Milan - complete with passers-by who had no idea they were part of a movie - and a car chase that offers a similar immediacy to Claude Lelouch's classic short C'etait Un Rendezvous despite being shot almost two decades earlier.
At its heart stands a towering performance from Lilo Ventura - who although having the broken nose and square stature of a gangster with miles on the clock brings a soulful melancholy to the role of Abel Davros, a man on the run from a death sentence, whose flight from Italy back to his French homeland is immeasurably complicated by the presence of his wife and two young sons.
Sautet's set up is economical, with Abel and his partner in crime Naldi (Stan Krol) waving off Abel's wife (Simone France) and kids (Robert Desnoux and Thierry Lavoye) at the train station - waving off the dependants so that they can pull of one last job. On the surface, it's a simple scene, but it quickly establishes both Abel's relationship with Naldi - whose closeness to the family is signified by the way he carries his partner's son up an escalator - and Abel's family credentials, even giving his wife some backstory, although this is limited to voice-over.
The first portion of the movie is a thrill ride of robbery and chase, as Abel and Naldi try to make the rendezvous point, but death is a constant companion and, as Abel finds himself at the mercy of those who owe him a favour in Paris, he quickly comes to discover, like many a hard-boiled gangster before him, that there is little honour among thieves. A glimmer of hope remains for him in the form of young thief Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose performance brims with youthful energy in comparison to Abel's growing gloom). Sent by Abel's erstwhile accomplices it is his relationship with the older criminal - and nicely handled romantic dalliance with a young woman (Sandra Milo) - which forms the backbone of the second half of the film.
Eric offers an echo of the young and thrusting Abel who was, as we see the world closing in on the older man, both in terms of his increasingly desperate choices and in the increasingly confined settings that Sautet shoots him in. Eric may not be a murderer but it's clear he's on the path towards it unless he makes a different choice.
Although the pace slackens slightly in the middle of the film, there are compensations from a string of memorable small performances scattered through it, including Evelyne Ker a hard-nosed gangster's daughter and Betty Schneider as a nervy maid. Now restored to its former glory this is a hard-boiled gem that deserves to be better known.Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2014