DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Classe Tous Risques

Friday, 31 July 2009

Classe Tous Risques

Classe Tous Risques (1960) dir. Claude Sauntet
Starring: Lino Ventura, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Michael Ardan, Simone France


In the 1960’s, the French, in addition to the New Wave, produced a wealth of influential crime films - flicks which were both influenced by the classic Hollywood gangster genre and which would go on to influence filmmakers of today. One of the best is Claude Sauntet's 'Consider All Risks', a film which doesn't much glorify gangsters as empathize and humanize them outside of the traditional genre stereotypes.

Sauntet drops us right into the action as we meet Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) and family, his wife Therese and his two young sons, and his compatriot in crime Raymond. They are all on the run from the authorities in Italy for a series of heists. It's a breakneck chase with the cops around Rome, on foot, on car, on boat, Abel and Raymond using their professional attitude and expertise and their ruthless willingness to kill to evade their pursuers. But when Raymond and his wife get shot and killed in a gunfight, Davos finds him alone with his kids.

Davos connects with his syndicate in Paris, a brotherhood which provides him with security, a home base and some semblance of trustworthy familial companionship. But when a total stranger is sent Davos' trusted friend Vintran, he suspects he may be cut off from the clan. Surprisingly a friendship develops with Davos' new driver, Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a man who seems to have the same loyal integrity and code of honor as he. And so when Davos gets to Paris, he finds himself on the run from his own brotherhood, with only his new friend to trust.

I suspect Risques was a major influence on Michael Mann’s 'Heat' - the modern model of character-based crime films. By telling crime from the point of view of the criminals, we sympathize with them and their acts. In Risques, when Abel shoots and kills two innocent patrol cops, we don’t think twice about the heinousness of that crime, instead we’re immediately concerned about Abel’s partner and his wife.

Like Mann Sauntet is careful to show the effect of the women and their relationships on the lives of these men. In other gangster pictures women are objects for the taking, either prostitutes or disposable accessories expendable when the heat is turned on. The relationship of Stark and his girlfriend is given attention and allowed to blossom, and the effect of Therese's death on Davos haunts him throughout the film. Davos' two young children adds even more complications to the traditional gangster hedonism - he recognizes his duty to his children but also knows that without a mother figure in their lives, they could end up like him.

Like 'Heat' the men are torn between the need for comfort and security and their chosen profession. This is why Abel’s family of gangsters is so important to him – a safe coterie of trusted compatriots who stick together for the good of them all. And so when this circle breaks down, Abel’s is forced to scramble and re-evaluate the effect of his lifestyle on his life and his children. Stark and Abel’s relationship plays into this gangster code. Stark has no need to help to Abel, yet he’s sworn into the gangster code, and is compelled to help. Abel recognizing this loyalty and develops a unique and sincere friendship.

All the while, Sauntet executes his lighting fast narrative with stone cold efficiency. Abel is as professionally ruthless as he needs to be, and the cops and robbers who chase each other are equally adept. The first half establishes Abel's character exclusively in action, a series of suspenseful confrontations, near misses and chases choreographed with headlong cinematic momentum. The chases continues in the second as well, but Sauntet allows us and his characters to take a breather to contemplate the situation. A chess and mindgame ensues which tests Abel's loyalty and commitment to escaping his life of crime.

"Classe Tous Risque'" makes for a marvelous history lesson of the roots of modern crime films, in relation to it's modern masters.

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