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The Criterion Collection presents
Classe Tous Risques (1960)

"We don't have a choice ..."
- Abel Davos (Lino Ventura)

Review By: Matt Serafini   
Published: July 25, 2008

Stars: Lino Ventura, Sandra Milo, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Stan Krol
Other Stars: Michel Ardan, Sylvain Lévignac
Director: Claude Sautet

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for Some violence
Run Time: 01h:48m:36s
Release Date: June 17, 2008
UPC: 715515030526
Genre: crime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B+AA A-

DVD Review

Of all the films I've reviewed recently, Classe tous risques proves to be among the most difficult. That's because Claude Sautet's French gangster film is best seen without any prior knowledge of the proceedings and, as a result, I spent a great deal of time struggling with how much of the story I should give away for the purpose of this critique. I'm certain that once you've seen the film you'll see why: the film opens with a bang and skillfully sucks the viewer in from there. A surprising thriller and a depressing character study all at once, this is a complex examination of honor among thieves living in desperate times.

The dragnet is closing in on Abel and Raymond, two criminals held up in Rome. Longing to escape the advances of the local police, they stage a daring escape culminating in a mad dash for the French border. Sadly, things don't go as planned and Abel soon finds himself relying on the camaraderie of the underworld to help him and his family evade the authorities, but what happens when you can't even depend on those closest to you?

Classe tous risques is surprising for many reasons. You're never quite sure where things are going and when you think you've got a handle on the plot, Claude Sautet's (who adapted this from José Giovanni's novel) script takes things in a different direction. This crime thriller eschews the trappings of similar genre films of that era, becoming a gripping character-driven piece about a father determined to protect his sons from the world which he belongs to. Characters are complex and Sautet keeps the atmosphere thick and gritty. If there's any problem with the story it's that it never explores the psyche of Abel's children. Several shots are set up and staged to seemingly reflect their psychology, but Sautet never delves beneath a superficial level.

And while I would have preferred some more insight into his children (and how Abel's career path has permanently affected them), the film makes up for it by offering viewers a richly drawn and contradictory main character. Abel is a violent and unsympathetic career criminal and we see how much he enjoys his lifestyle during the vicious opening scene. But as things progress, we learn more about him and see his capability for decency. This duality makes for a compelling character that the audience quickly invests in. Even if we're not comfortable with all the things he's done, his humanity shines through and keeps us caring.

The film only falters in its climax, with an abrupt and unsatisfying finish concluding in a text crawl. It's not enough to derail an overall confident and engrossing crime drama, but one can't help but feel like it runs out of steam at the very end. That said, the film and its characters stay with you long after the proceedings. We may have a slightly flawed film in Classe tous risques, but one with far too much style and substance to hold too much against it.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Criterion's image is a solid black and white transfer. Blacks are solid, featuring deep shadows and incredibly vivid detail. The black and white imagery contrasts beautifully as a result of the video presentation here.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchno


Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio track is bold and the dialogue is vibrant. Sound effects and background noises are also impressively active through the one speaker, though never to the point where it overbears the dialogue. No complaints about this track.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Lino Ventura (4m:38s)
Extras Review: Criterion's collection of extras aren't excessive, but it's all required viewing for any fan of the film. The first featurette, Excerpts from Claude Sautet ou la magie invisible runs eight minutes, ten seconds and is an all-too-brief snippet of a Sautet documentary. It's a revealing look at the writer-director of the film, but ends just as it's getting interesting. I would image this is to provoke people into seeking out the full-length production, which is something I'd very much like to do.

Interview with Jose Giovanni (12m:05s) is an honest discussion with the author of the novel and co-writer of the film. A frank discussion about Giovanni's life experiences which led to him penning Classe.

The archival interview with Lino Ventura is a so-so discussion about the actor's career. Not much here at four minutes, but it's an interesting watch.

Two trailers, one US and one French round out the digital extras.

The best extra, however, is the 29-page book included with the DVD. It's a shame that companies have all but jettisoned reading material to be bundled in with the DVD these days as it was one of the best things about DVD. I can't help but feel like mainstream acceptance of the format may have put the permanent kibosh on this as DVD is no longer for the digitally obsessed. That said, this is reflective piece which examines the director and his place in French cinema, not to mention the most compelling themes of the film.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Criterion has delivered this interesting addition to the gangster genre in a classy little package. The black and white transfer is a revelation and the supplementary material is all worth viewing. I had some issues with a film's narrative style and resolution, but I can't deny that the overall experience was an entirely engrossing one.

 


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