MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady Klady@moviecitynews.com

Leonard Klady on Claude Sautet

About a month ago the American Cinematheque screened what I mistook for the French filmmaker Claude Sautet’s first directing credit, Classe tous risqués. I’d seen the film relatively recently when the Los Angeles Film Critics presented Jean-Paul Belmondo with a career achievement award. It’s the tale of a gangster on the run (Lino Ventura) and his driver (Belmondo) and is largely distinguished by the two central performances, particularly the coiled spring that was the young JPL and was the point of departure for his iconic persona.

Sautet had been an assistant director and screenwriter who along with the likes of Jose Giovanni and Jacques Deray were associated with genre films, especially policiers. So following 20 years of working in the trenches it was a shock that his breakthrough would come with Les Choses de la vie (1970), a meditation on life that was uncompromising and devastating. And although he would occasionally return to the thriller format, it’s sagas of the bourgeoisie that he’s most identified with and provides his legacy.

Five of those films have been restored and are touring with the Los Angeles dates beginning this weekend at the Laemmle Royale. In addition to Les Choses de la vie, the program focuses on his work in the early 1970s, Cesar et Rosalie, Max et les farrailleurs, Vincent, Francois, Paul et les autres and his final film (Sautet died in 2000) Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud released in 1995.

On a personal note, those “early” films shaped my attitude toward the French. His characters were recognizably flawed but not unbowed. They were elegant, witty, impeccably mannered and struggled to do the right thing. They did in the clinch unless wholly unforeseeable elements prevailed. I rarely encountered them when I began to travel to France. It was a tremendous disappointment only somewhat placated by the release of a new film by M. Sautet.

His work is readily embraceable. He was an elegant filmmaker with a precise, unfussy visual sensibility. Characters emerged into the sunshine and he allows his performers to play or rather stretch often well worn screen personalities. He essentially reinvented Romy Schneider who appears to have been his muse. The brittleness of the German-born ingénue evolved into the quintessence of the mature, sexy and conflicted Frenchwoman.

In César and Rosalie, Schneider is the elusive object of desire for Yves Montand. He cannot help his compulsion as much as she cannot accept his kindness and decency and makes bad decisions that involve her former lover. It is a film about not committing with elements of surprising friendships and twists that suggest that any one the principle characters might just make a radical change.

In re-viewing Sautet’s oeuvre I was struck by his ability to impose a thriller-like structure to his human dramas without losing the emotional potency of the material. He was consumed by reversals; he had a rat-trap perspective of “this is” and “what if” and it all flowed organically from the people that populated his stories.

In a fashion he was drawn to a sort of drawing room structure whether that literally transpired in a room or at a countryside outing. Again and again characters seek to recapture something of their past through someone that’s seemingly unattainable. It’s an aspect that intensified as his career progressed and was central to Un Coeur en hiver (not part of the series) and Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud. In the latter the title folk are a young woman in a miserable marriage and an old businessman that befriends her. Arnaud (the ever brilliant Michel Serrault) extends her a kindness and once she extricates herself from the shackles of her daily travails he asks her to assist in the writing of his memoirs.

Without the trope of endless flashbacks, Nelly manages to convey the past and in so doing Arnaud appears to believe he is that young man. Obviously untrue but never sentimentalized, it is the stirring of old emotions that she retains immunity to as she carries on her own life. It’s bittersweet like so much of Sautet’s work without losing its sense of humor or the undying affection he instilled in his work.

 

Leave a Reply

Quote Unquotesee all »

“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook