June 2015, arsenal cinema

The Things of Life - Claude Sautet Retrospective

MAX ET LES FERRAILLEURS, 1971

Claude Sautet (1924-2000) was a loner in French cinema who put his ideas of classical narrative film into practice in parallel to the Nouvelle Vague. François Truffaut called him the "most French director of all". This has to do perhaps with the fact that the bistro plays such an important role in Sautet’s films, in which characters eat and drink and drive together and which are about the possibilities of love, surely the theme that is most associated with French cinema. Eschewing the spectacular, Sautet made differentiated studies of human relationships. His films about friendship and love were full of poetic melancholy that featured the greatest stars of the time: Lino Ventura, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Romy Schneider, Michel Piccoli, Yves Montand, Gérard Depardieu, Sandrine Bonnaire, Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Béart. From the time of his artistic and commercial breakthrough LES CHOSES DE LA VIE (1970), Sautet was considered a chronicler of the French middle class. However, in contrast to Claude Chabrol or Luis Buñuel, he was not interested in showing up the bourgeoisie. His "portraits in movement", as he called them, are free of judgmental superiority. He emphatically reveals what is not alive in supposedly secure bourgeois society and views the tender-hearted attempts to escape it with tender regret. Soberly, with reserve and without resorting to psychological analysis, he unpretentiously follows the fates of his protagonists as they get entangled in feelings and relationships. Featuring discreet imagery, the films are about missed opportunities, feelings not acted upon, journeys of self-discovery, love affairs that end and begin. Loneliness is often contrasted with the superficial warmth of groups and public spaces. Plot is not the driving force of these films which are more about precise observation and about the revelation of feelings that go beyond the narrative, nuances, looks, gestures, daily existence, the things of life. Not long before his death, Sautet re-edited his films, shortening some of them by several minutes. For the sake of comparison, we will be showing two versions of the three films VINCENT, FRANÇOIS, PAUL … ET LES AUTRES, LES CHOSES DE LA VIE and MADO - the 35mm version from when the films were released and the shortened digital director's cuts.

VINCENT, FRANÇOIS, PAUL ET LES AUTRES (Vincent, François, Paul and the Others, F/I 1974, 5.6., with an introduction by Michael Baute & 13.6.) This film is about three men in their mid-50s - Vincent, (Yves Montand), François (Michel Piccoli), Paul (Serge Reggiani) and their crises. It is about relationships that have gone to seed, lost ideals, paralyzing habits, creative blocks, bankruptcies, separations and loneliness. "Truffaut once wrote that the theme of Sautet's best film VINCENT could be summarized in one word: Life. 'Some viewers said: It's nice, but it's also horrible, like a blow. I don't see it that way, I think it's optimistic, uplifting and I feel as if I'm hearing Sautet's voice, saying - I could be mistaken -'Life is perhaps tough at times but on the whole it's beautiful.'" (Michael Althen)

MAX ET LES FERRAILLEURS (Max and the Junkmen, F/I 1971, 6. & 16.6.) Real and fake feelings collidefatally in Sautets favorite film: The Parisian police inspector (Michel Piccoli) is obsessed with the idea of catching criminals in the act. After a series of unsolved bank robberies, he meets Abel, an old acquaintance from his military service days, by chance again  and decides to trap him and his group of petty criminal junkmen. He pretends that he is a banker to Abels girlfriend, the prostitute Lili (Romy Schneider), and as their relationship becomes increasingly intimate, he feeds her falseinformation about significant money deliveries to his branch.

CLASSE TOUS RISQUES (Consider All Risks, F/I 1960, 6. & 12.6.) Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) is a mobster sentenced to death in absentia who is on the run in Italy. After a bank robbery goes awry, he flees the country by motorboat with his wife and their two sons aged five and seven, as well as his friend Raymond. When they arrive on the French Riviera, there is a deadly shooting with customs officers. Abel contacts some former "brothers-in-crime"for help getting to Paris with his children. They've long since become bourgeois and only send a young man called Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo) to Nice. With this sober debut that was shot on location and had a hint of the American B-movie, Claude Sautet freed the genre of the French "polar", classic gangster films, from routine and cliches. Made just as the Nouvelle Vague was blossoming, the genre film with its comparatively conservative narrative stylewas largely ignored by critics and the public, but it became a hit when it was re-released in 1971 and is now considered one of the most significant French "polars".

LES CHOSES DE LA VIE (The Things of Life, F/I 1970, 7. & 20.6.) Pierre (Michel Piccoli), a successful architect in his 40s, has an accident in his Alfa Romea on a country road. While he lies badly injured in the grass, he sees his life pass before him: Encounters with his lover Hélène (Romy Schneider), his estranged wife Catherine, his son Gérard and his father. Claude Sautet's artistic breakthrough marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration with the composer Philippe Sarde, as well as with the two main actors Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider, who became superstars thanks to its success. The images of the accident filmed from different perspectives have entered the collective memory of French film history.

L'ARME A GAUCHE (The Dictator's Guns, F/I/Spain 1965, 10. & 12.6.) The seaman Jacques Cournot (Lino Ventura) is asked to inspect a sailing boat in Santo Domingo. Not long afterwards, the boat is stolen and he and its American owner start searching for it in the Caribbean. They find it apparently abandoned on a sandbank near Jamaica and come across a group of arms smugglers. Claude Sautet considered his second and last film with Lino Ventura as an exercise in style: this is a crime movie, an adventure film and a Kammerspiel all in one.

CÉSAR ET ROSALIE(F/I/FRG 1972, 13. & 17.6.) Rosalie (Romy Schneider) has been living with César (Yves Montand), an older wealthy metal dealer in Paris since divorcing the artist Antoine. Her young love, the comic artist David (Sami Frey) turns up at a wedding unexpectedly and makes no secret of his feelings for her. This tragicomiclove triangle was one of Sautet's greatest successes. Michael Piccoli provided the voiceover and the 19-year-old Isabelle Hupert appeared in one of her first roles.

UNE HISTOIRE SIMPLE (A Simple Story, F/FRG 1978, 14. & 19.6.) Marie (Romy Schneider) is about 40, she works in fashion and has a 16-year-old son. When she falls pregnant again, she decides not to keep the child because she doubts whether her lover will make a good father. As she gets closer to her ex-husband, she does not lose herself in confusing feelings. Romy Schneider was at the pinnacle of her career when she played Marie - a woman who emancipates herself in the middle of her life - and won the César for best actress. The ensemble film, a "female counterpart" to VINCENT, FRANÇOIS, PAUL ET LES AUTRES, was also nominated for the best foreign film Oscar.

MADO (F/I/BRD 1976, 20. & 25.6.) When his associate Julien commits suicide, leaving behind a financial hole of several million dollars, the Paris-based real estate agent Simon Léotard (Michel Piccoli) is threatened with bankruptcy and also has to deal with the unscrupulous schemings of a rival firm named Lépidon. With the help of Mado, a young woman who sometimes works as a prostitute in whom he falls in love, he resorts to his own means to get the better of his rivals.The mood is set by the consequences of the first heavy economic crisis to hit post-war France - unemployment, financial straits, bribery, intrigues and unhappy love. Mado formulates the leitmotif right at the beginning: "We all sell ourselves, in our own way."

UN MAUVAIS FILS (A Bad Son, F 1980, 19. & 27.6.) Bruno Calgagni (Patrick Dewaere) returns to France after five years spent in a US jail because of drug smuggling. Temporarily, he lives in the small flat of his father, who accuses him of being responsible for his mother's unhappiness and death. While looking for work, he meets Catherine, an ex-heroin addict in rehab. By making this film, Claude Sautet left his familiar terrain of middle-class people in their mid-40s and devoted his efforts to another class. This is an astonishing portrait of French society in the late 1970s, a quiet, differentiated film about family relationships, unemployment, affairs and drugs that was never distributed in Germany.

GARÇON!(F 1983, 24. & 26.6.) Alex (Yves Montand) is a head waiter in a big Parisian brasserie. When he falls in love with the significantly younger Claire (Nicole Garcia), he finds the necessary energy to realize his dream of setting up an amusement park on the coast. Sautet was dissatisfied with this film that, alongside QUELQUES JOURS AVEC MOI, was one of his most cheerful and he re-worked it several times after the premiere. We'll be showing the restored final version that runs 91 minutes.

QUELQUES JOURS AVEC MOI (A Few Days with Me, F 1988, 23. & 26.6.) Martial Pasquier (Daniel Auteil) is the emotionally unstable heir of a supermarket chain. After being released from a psychiatric institution, he is sent by his mother to the provincial town of Limoges to find out why the supermarket branch there is doing so badly. He soon discovers that the branch manager is putting money in his own pocket, thus technically completing his task. However, to the surprise of all, he decides to settle in Limoges. He invites Francine (Sandrine Bonnaire) the branch manager's housekeeper to spend a few days with him. This satirical tragicomedy about rich industrialists, petty bourgeois provincials and so-called "simple people" was an unusually sarcastic portrait of society for Sautet.

UN CŒUR EN HIVER (A Heart in Winter, F 1992, 21. & 27.6.) Stéphane (Daniel Auteuil) and Maxime (André Dussollier) have a workshop for making and repairing violins. The extrovert Maxime is in charge of business and customer service, while the shy and reserved Stéphane is responsible for the instruments. After Maxime introduces Stéphane to his new girlfriend, the talented young violinist Camille (Emmanuelle Béart), a complicated entanglement of feelings develops. Sautet's strictly composed masterpiece, a quiet drama about unfulfilled passions was inspired by Mikhail Lermontov's novel "A Hero of Our Time" (1840).

NELLY & MONSIEUR ARNAUD (F/I/D 1995, 28. & 30.6.) The relationship between Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) and Jérôme, who spends his days lazing in front of the television, is at its end; both are highly in debt and neither has any income of note. A friend's ex-lover, the retired judge Pierre Arnaud (Michel Serrault), offers Nelly a well-paid job to act as his secretary, typing and editing his memoirs. She accepts reluctantly but the more she finds out about his life, the closer the two become. Sautet's last film is about impossible and unacknowledged love between two people, as well as taking leave from love and life. (hjf)

With the kind support of the Institut français and the French embassy.

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