Nationality: French. Born: Montrouge, Paris, 23 February 1924. Education: Ecole des Arts Decoratif, entered IDHEC, 1948. Career: Music critic for newspaper Combat, late 1940s; assistant director to Pierre Montazel, Gut Lefranc, Georges Franju, and Jacques Becker, 1950s; also TV producer; directed first feature, Classe tous risques, 1960. Died: Of liver cancer in Paris, 22 July 2000.
Films as Director and Scriptwriter:
Nous n'irons plus au bois (short)
Bonjour sourire (d only)
Classe tous risques (The Big Risk)
L'Arme à gauche (Guns for the Dictator)
Les Choses de la vie (The Things of Life)
Max et les ferrailleurs
César et Rosalie (Cesar and Rosalie)
Vincent, François, Paul . . . et les autres
Une Histoire simple
Un Mauvais Fils (A Bad Son)
Quelques Jours avec moi
Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter) (co-sc)
Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud (Nelly & Mr. Arnaud) (co-sc); Les Enfants de Lumière
Touchez pas au Grisbi (Grisbi)
Les Yeux sans visages (Eyes without a Face) (Franju) (asst d)
By SAUTET: book—
Conversations avec Claude Sautet, Institute Lumière, 1994.
By SAUTET: articles—
Interviews with Claude Beylie, in Ecran (Paris), December 1972 and November 1974.
"Claude Sautet, c'est la vitalité," with François Truffaut, in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), December 1974.
Interviews with Michel Ciment and others, in Positif (Paris), December 1976 and January 1979.
"Romy Schneider: une actrice qui depasse le quotidien," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 March 1979.
Interview with G. Legrand and I. Jordan in Positif (Paris), December 1983.
"Je ne prevoyais pas ce debordement emotionnel," an interview with M. Sineux and Y. Tobin, in Positif (Paris), September 1992.
Interview in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), October 1992.
"Le jour se lève," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.
Douin, Jean-Luc, "Histoires pas si simples," in Télérama (Paris), 20 July 1994.
Interview in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 4, 1996.
On SAUTET: book—
Korkmaz, Joseph, Le Cinéma de Claude Sautet, Paris, 1985.
On SAUTET: articles—
Sineux, M., "Entretien avec Philippe Sarde sur Claude Sautet et quelques autres," in Positif (Paris), January 1979.
"Claude Sautet Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), January 1984.
Thomas, Kevin, "The Musical Style of Claude Sautet," in LosAngeles Times, 18 June 1993.
Arnold, Gary, "Sex and Violins," in Washington Times, 11 July 1993.
Arnold, Gary, "Montand, Schneider and the Little White Lie," in Washington Times, 11 July 1993.
Elley, Derek, "Film Reviews—Nelly & Mr. Arnaud," in Variety (New York), 18 September 1995.
Masson, Alain, Vincent Amiel and Michel Sineux, in Positif (Paris), October 1995.
Dumas, Danielle, "L'intelligence du coeur," in Avant-Scène duCinéma (Paris), June 1996.
Masson, A., "L'insouciance et la fidelite," and "Quelques images de films de Claude Sautet," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), January 1997.
* * *
The career of Claude Sautet was slow in getting underway, but by the 1970s he had virtually become the French cinema's official chronicler of bourgeois life. He had made his directing debut with a solidly constructed thriller, Classe tous risques, in 1960, but a second film, L'Arme à gauche, did not follow until 1965 and was markedly less successful. Despite numerous scriptwriting assignments, his directing career did not really get underway until he completed Les Choses de la vie in 1969. This set the pattern for a decade of filmmaking.
The core of any Sautet film is a fairly banal emotional problem—a man caught between two women in Les Choses de la vie or a married woman confronted with a former lover in César et Rosalie. Around this situation Sautet weaves a rich pattern of bourgeois life: concerns with home and family, with money and possessions, give these films their particular tone. This is a cinema of warm, convincingly depicted characters for whom Sautet clearly has great affection and more than a touch of complicity. Problems and motivations are always explicitly set out, for this is a style of psychological realism in which the individual, not the social, forms the focus of attention.
The director's style is a sober, classical one, built on the model of Hollywood narrative traditions: action, movement, vitality. Though his style can encompass such set pieces as the boxing match in Vincent, Francois, Paul . . . et les autres, Sautet is more concerned with the unfolding of a strong and involving narrative line. A key feature of all his work are the confrontation scenes which offer such excellent opportunities for the talented stars and solid character players who people his films.
Sautet's films from the mid-1970s to early 1980s—Mado, Une Histoire simple, and Une Mauvais Fils—are all characterized by a total assurance and a mastery of the medium. This mastery, however, is exercised within very precise limits—not in terms of the subject matter, which widens to take in the problems of affluence, women's independence, and juvenile delinquency, but in the manner in which such issues of the moment are approached. Sautet's classicism of form and ability to communicate directly with his audience is not accompanied by the resonances of social criticism which characterize the best North American cinema. Seeking to move his audience rather than enlighten it, Sautet uses powerful actors cast to type in carefully constructed roles, but any probing of the essential contradictions is avoided by a style of direction that keeps rigidly to the surface of life, the given patterns of bourgeois social behaviour. His approach is therefore condemned to a certain schematism, particularly in the handling of dialogue scenes, but his work gets its sense of vitality from the vigor with which the group scenes—the meals and excursions—and the typical locations of café or railway station are handled. Sautet offers a facsimile of life, a reflection of current problems or issues, but contained within a form calculated not to trouble the spectator after he has left the cinema. This conformism may seem limiting to the contemporary critic, but it will offer future generations a rare insight into the manner in which the French middle classes liked to see themselves in the 1970s.
In two of his most recent features, the popularly and critically well-received Un Coeur en Hiver (1992) and Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud (1995), Sautet continues to offer versions of French middle-class bourgeois life in the 1990s. In keeping with Sautet's thematic and stylistic terrain, Un Coeur and Nelly both focus on a small group of individuals as they undergo a set of personal and emotional situations. Again, while one senses a touch of Sautet's complicity with the bourgeois world he represents, these films do not simply offer the conservative resolutions that characterize so many of the bourgeois Hollywood productions of the 1980s and 1990s. As we watch Un Coeur and Nelly, we proceed along the interior, emotional topographies of characters like the remote and ostensibly affectless Stephan in Un Coeur. The tension which builds throughout Un Coeur as a result of Stephan's unwillingness and/or incapacity to love does not find its release, however, through the union of Stephan and Camille by the film's end: Camille continues her relationship with Maxim, Stephan remains alone. As a result, Sautet powerfully succeeds in having us experience the frustration these characters feel, because Un Coeur resists consummating a formulaic relationship with its audience via a happy ending as Hollywood films are likely to do.
Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud affects its audience in similar ways. Comparable to Un Coeur, Nelly's presentation of the emotional firings and mis-firings between Nelly, Arnaud, Vincent, and Jerome draw the viewer into a narrative that resists uncomplicated closure; because of this, the world of Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud is more likely to resemble the reality its audience will encounter once the credits role and the lights go up. Derek Elley aptly comments in Variety that Sautet, in his films, "is more interested in the what-could-havehappened than the what-actually-has." Nelly, he concludes, "will delight those who don't like their T's crossed and I's dotted." While neither a revolutionary cinema nor one which simply gives way to Hollywood narrative conventions, Claude Sautet's films endure as poignant and insightful tales depicting the often beguiling world of human affairs.
—Roy Armes, updated by Kevin J. Costa