Le Deuxiéme Souffle (Second Breath) was Jean-Pierre Melville’s first film after a four year hiatus in the mid-60s. It was also his final black & white film. Once again he proved himself to be France’s most masterful stylist, while also reinforcing his favored themes of loyalty, friendship, and doomed masculinity. Word is bond in the world of Melville, and Le Deuxiéme Souffle‘s anti-hero Gu Minda (the monolith Lino Ventura) makes that statement numerous times during the film. It’s a pretty standard gangster tragedy, but in the hands of Melville, the film is a contemplative morality play with visual style and inventiveness out the ass.
Claude Sautet’s Class Tous Risques was eclipsed by Godard’s Breathless in 1960, but Jean-Paul Belmondo gets shot in both of them. He doesn’t play such a smarmy prick in Sautet’s film though, which is a starkly cynical and intelligent bit of realist crime completely stripped of flash. It’s about a middle-aged thief named Abel (Lino Ventura) who is banking on one last score to retire. Like most movie criminals with jinxed retirement plans, shit turns sour and Abel has to rely on his shifty underworld cohorts for help.