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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

History In The Viewing

Hollywood doesnt compare to the classics
Hollywood doesn’t compare to the classics

The Kendall Square Movie Theater offered the public a great classic last week. Classe Tous Risque (1960) directed by Claude Sautet was screened in Cambridge, at one of a select few venues. The opportunity to view such a film on the silver screen is exciting; it is very much like entering a time machine where one can engage with the cinematic aesthetic of the past. Classe Tous Risque is particularly appealing for movie buffs because it was made during the golden age of French film, when auteur theory was coming to its fruition. Auteur theory grapples with the fact that films are (like theatre) a collaborative effort. Regardless, certain individual filmmakers emerge as the major creative force, the auteur. It is because of this largely philosophical era in French cinema that we have the “film school” directors of twenty-first century American cinema: Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg. Classe Tous Risque itself is a great example of the intersection between French and American cinema.

“Neo-realism meets film noir” touts Landmark Theatres in its press release. While word count requires brevity here that might irk the film studies majors, film noir is distinctly an American cinematic phenomenon from around the time of WW II. Its major themes include “hard boiled dialogue”, that of pulp novels or comic books, a high degree of contrast between darks and lights, rain, femme fatales, and dystopian or amoral themes. Neo-realism is more of a universal cinematic occurrence from the mid twentieth century and is largely operative in films from both America and France. Neo-realism places great emphasis on scenic realism, opting for actual locations instead of using tired old studio sets. Classe Tous Risque uses actual locations to gain that feeling of neo-realism and combines that with the antihero of film noir.

Abel Davos, the protagonist of Classe, is a fugitive with a death sentence. Traveling with his wife, two children, and a partner in crime, he desperately tries to evade European authorities. The movie has car chases, boat chases, motorcycle chases, and all of them take place in the beautiful locale of the French and Italian Riviera. One of the strongest aspects of Classe is the way it unfolds.

Many modern films that begin with high energy action sequences unsuccessfully regain the viewers’ attention. With its meticulous plot structure and its paced introduction to the many different characters, Classe keeps the twists and turns coming long after the car chases have ended. While the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat it does not offer the kind of surprise twists that ruin the movie for a second viewing. This is why it is still enjoyable today nearly fifty years after its original release. If you missed it at Kendall, add it to you rental list and you’ll impress your next would-be movie buff date.