A Son’s Love Letter to His Mother

Franca Sozzani and her son, Francesco Carrozzini
“Franca: Chaos and Creation” | Disarming Films

 
Franca: Chaos and Creation, the book, celebrating the life and work of Franca Sozzani, was recently released by Assouline. The book follows the documentary by the same name from 2016, directed by Franca’s son, Francesco Carrozzini.

The film Franca: Chaos and Creation is the only portrait of the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia that I have ever cared to watch/read. I remember the time after her passing away in 2016, how everything written about her lacked emotion. I wasn’t interested in reading how she revolutionised fashion, or how she transformed the Italian Vogue from a catalogue of brands to the most influential fashion magazine in the world with a strong cultural and social point of view, or about her controversial issues that often lead to criticism because they did not fit the system and the image of a brand. I already knew all that and that was why I had been buying Vogue Italia religiously for years (unlike any other Vogue or fashion magazine). But then I realised I shouldn’t expect a more intimate portrayal of her in the press. Because Franca Sozzani was a very private person. She had managed to keep a sense of mystery around her in an industry that was more and more shaped by fame-seeking editors who gave it a bad reputation by putting themselves in the spotlight and by showing the stupid and frivolous side of fashion.

She didn’t open up to everyone. She only opened up in front of her son, who after having lost his father five years before, wanted to spend more time with his mother and capture her on film just for himself. A love letter from a child to his mother. “The only true love is the one you have for your child,” Franca says in the film.
 

Franca Sozzani and her son, Francesco Carrozzini
movie still from “Franca: Chaos and Creation” | Disarming Films

 

”Life starts new every day.”

 
“When my father died, I realized my mother was all I had left. Seeking a deeper level of connection, I turned my camera on her as a means of exploring our relationship in a new way and also to confront the questions I had never asked before. I wanted to understand the choices she had made throughout her personal life, but also gain insight into her work in the fashion world and share the story of her groundbreaking career. This film, which took 4 years to complete, is as much a testament to her legacy as it is an act of love,” Francesco Carrozzini revealed.

And I finally found that emotional and personal touch I was hoping to find when all those tributes to Franca started pouring in. She had managed to speak to the whole world through the images in her magazine. Now she was speaking to the whole world about her. And she did it for her son. She wouldn’t have done it for anyone else. When asked whether she would have agreed to do the project with a different director, Sozzani confessed: “Never. I would never have done it for someone else. I was actually reluctant to present myself like this to the public. I don’t have the desire to show myself to the world. I have to be out there for my job but it’s because I earned it, not because I go around with a feather on my head or a tail on my back.” I believe this is such a valuable lesson today. In a world that has almost lost touch with reality, a world in which everyone wants to become “famous”, a world of the quantified self, a world in which an entire generation is diligently recording themselves accomplishing so little, Franca’s strong sense of self and opinion and her resistence to artificiality and to the mass mentality is something I admire, respect and aspire to. And I hope it can serve as model to teenagers and younger people, too.
 

Some of my favourite Franca Sozzani Vogue Italia covers, from left to right:
July/August 1988 (her first issue) / May 1993 /April 2012 / February 1989

 

”We have to believe in human beings, otherwise we don’t believe in anything.”

 
Franca: Chaos and Creation is not about the dramas and intrigues behind the glamorous world of high fashion, about celebrity designers, models and photographers (although of course we get to see some of her long-term collaborators, Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber and Paolo Roversi speak frankly, appreciatively and lovingly about her). You don’t get to see her or any magazine stylist pick clothes for photo shootings (Lindbergh recounts how relieved he was that she didn’t care if the clothes didn’t show completely in photographs – it was a different story they both wanted to tell). Franca Sozzani in fact resented the celebrity side of fashion. She had even stopped going to the fashion shows through the main entrance in order to avoid being photographed by 20-year-olds who wanted to put her picture online. She was a journalist, a professional, with a degree in philosophy and literature, and she took her role seriously.

This is the portrait of a woman’s own vision of connecting her ideas and the world with fashion, of a woman carving her own way against the system and against the conventions of society, of a woman passionate about her work, of a pioneer. But it’s first and foremost the story of a mother and her son. They bicker in the back seat of the car while being driven around New York, she swears (in Italian, no less), she gets angry, she makes fun of her son, they laugh, she talks about her happy childhood and her supportive parents who taught her to be independent and fearless, she reveals family secrets about Francesco’s father, things not even her son had known until then, and that her remaining dream is to meet the pope (she would ask him why he has so much faith). Her overflowing honesty makes these moments so personal and spontaneous that you feel truly fortunate to witness a precious piece of family history and family life. And, yes, these moments should be rare. Because, no, it is not okay to share your personal life with the whole world. Will we ever go back to normality?
 

Franca Sozzani | movie still from “Franca: Chaos and Creation” | Disarming Films

 
Franca Sozzani also talks about why she revered Yves Saint Laurent for his having given permission to women to dress like men, thus being very close to her way of thinking. About never seeking out security and the comfortable life. About being positive and seeing life not with hindsight and heaviness, but with a sense of humour and lightness – “Lightness for me is when being profound allows you to fly high.” About failing as a way to always improve yourself. About dreaming, because only when you dream you are completely free. About the fact that the most important legacy she will leave behind is her son, but that she also needs to leave something else behind, something that will become part of history. About the fact that she did not have a happy love life and that you can not have it all. Another valuable lesson to take away. No, you can not have it all.
 

“Franca: Chaos and Creation”, the book | Assouline

 
 

You can currently watch the documentary “Franca: Chaos and Creation” on
Netflix or you can order it here or here. The book “Franca: Chaos and Creation”
is available for order here or pre-order here.

 

Posted by classiq in Books, Fashion, Film | | Leave a comment

Down the Road Wherever

Spring ahead with a few old and new favourite sounds, from Hal Blaine’s drummer beats to Mark Knopfler’s latest album. A playlist.


 
 
1. Trapper Man, Mark Knopfler / 2. Going Back Home, Roger Daltrey and Wilko Johnson / 3. Beautiful Ones, Suede / 4. Strangers in the Night, Frank Sinatra / 5. All I Want, Joni Mitchell / 6. Run Through the Jungle, Creedence Clearwater Revival / 7. Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds / 8. La belle et la bête, Babyshambles / 9. It’s A Shame about Ray, The Lemonheads / 10. Ordinary Day, Dolores O’Riordan / 11. Be My Baby, The Ronnettes / 12. Alright, Supergrass / 13. Punish the Monkey, Mark Knopfler / 14. After the Lights Go Out, The Walker Brothers / 15. Another Sunny Day, Belle & Sebastian / 16. Girl from Mars, Ash / 17. People Are Strange, The Doors / 18. One, U2
 
 

 
 
A few words about the songs and musicians featured today.

As you might have noticed, our latest playlist pays homage to drummer Hal Blaine, who passed away last week at age 90. One of the most prolific drummers in rock ‘n’ roll history, Hal Blaine put his beat of many great songs, like The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, which features one of the most indelible drum introductions in rock ‘n’ roll (and which is why I included it again here after our previous playlist, Best Rock Moments in Film), Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”, The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” and many, many more, having collaborated with Dean Martin, Simon & Garfunkel, Nancy Sinatra, The Carpenters, among others. “His versatility – an almost uncanny ability to instantly adapt to nearly any style – is, in the end, what made him so peerless. He always knew what a song needed, and he always knew how to play it,” wrote The New Yorker. I also recommend you listen to this Terry Gross Fresh Air episode interviewing the musician back in 2001.

If you, like my husband and I, are huge fans of Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler, note that his 2019 tour, celebrating the release of his ninth studio solo album, “Down the Road Wherever”, will kick off on April 25th. He will tour Europe and North America and you can find all the information here.

 
Joni Mitchell will release a book this autumn. “Morning Glory on the Vine”, which collects lyrics, poems and drawings, was originally created for and privately sent to the singer-songwriter’s closest friends in 1971. The release this year will include a new introduction by Mitchell and additional paintings not included in the original edition (which was limited to just 100 copies). Francis Bickmore, who acquired the book for Canongate, said: “Joni Mitchell’s influence on popular culture is peerless. There is simply no one like her. Her fearless pursuit of honesty and art, her gift for storytelling and her incalculably beautiful melodies and voice – all of these have been inspirations and companions to me, and to so many others, for decades.”

Photo: “Morning Glory on the Vine” cover art | Canongate
 

Posted by classiq in Crafts & Culture | | Leave a comment

Wunder Workshop: Interview with Zoe Lind van’t Hof

Zoe Lind van’t Hof, co-founder of Wunder Workshop | photo: Jutta Klee

 
Food as medicine. Nature as the source of our wellbeing. Mindfulness as the pathway to happiness. These practices have become an important part of the conversation at the moment. And with good reason. Because I believe it is always the simplest things and our view on things in the simplest ways that hold the answer to a life well lived: healthy, balanced, purposeful, fulfilled. By returning to nature and its natural ingredients and to seeing good in our surroundings, we take care of our individual selves and of those around us. And we must respect nature in order to respect ourselves and become the best versions of ourselves.

Wunder Workshop, a functional food brand making organic and ethically sourced turmeric based products, was created in this same philosophy. Ayurvedic inspired, Sri Lankan sourced and London made, it focuses on consumption with purpose, by harvesting the power of plants for the ultimate wellness ritual. Wunder translates to miracle, and they focus on plants that have a quality that can be classed as such. It is as much about food for the body as it is about food for the mind. But what ultimately sets Wunder Workshop apart is that it combines good ingredients with good intentions, and therein lies their products’ nurturing power and beneficial effects. And that simply makes the world a better place.

I have talked to the Wunder Workshop co-founder, Zoe Lind van’t Hof, about Ayurvedic medicine, about her very special and boundless daily source of inspiration, about personal style and finding balance, and about her go-to pick-me-up in the afternoon.
 

Wunder Workshop – The Turmeric Brand
photo: Wunder Workshop

 
 

”We believe that prevention is better than cure
and we believe in the uniqueness of every individual.”

 
 
Tell me a little bit about the story behind Wunder Workshop. How did it come to be? What sparked your interest in wellness?
My biggest inspiration to start Wunder Workshop was my late mother who had been very passionate about health and wellbeing since her early twenties, so by the time I was born she had nearly 20 years of experience. This meant I was surrounded by interesting books about traditional medicine, the power of plants and how to create all kinds of natural remedies from an early age. I grew up eating organic and locally sourced vegetarian food, we grew many of our own vegetables and herbs and we used to go to very down-to-earth Ayurvedic health retreats in Sri Lanka.

After dabbling in different career paths (from politics to interior design), I realised that my true purpose lay in what was around me all my life: health and plants. This is when I decided to go back to Sri Lanka and find an organic farm that uses sustainable and ethical farming techniques with whom I could work together to bring some of their incredible plant knowledge in the form of herbs and spices back to London and started Wunder Workshop – focusing on turmeric and consumption with purpose.

Could you explain to the readers more exactly what does Ayurveda mean?
Ayurveda means translated “the science of life”… It is believed that Ayurvedic medicine was the first health system, from which Chinese medicine was developed and consequently the medical system as we know it in the Western world. So, it can be argued to be the root of all modern medicine. Our brand’s ethos (Consumption with purpose) is founded on Ayurveda’s principles as we believe that prevention is better than cure and we believe in the uniqueness of every individual. Ayurveda takes a holistic approach to health rather than seeking one drug to cure illnesses, it assesses the balance between all aspects of one’s life. In Ayurveda, disease is a sign of unbalance in your personal constitution, so one has to go to the very root of this issue. By adding a bit of Wunder daily we hope you can create a routine that forms one piece of the bigger picture.

Your products are focused on turmeric. What is the one thing everyone should know about turmeric? And how do you personally include it in your diet?
The list is endless, but I would say its anti-inflammatory benefits are the most impressive. Inflammation is very common in our modern-day society, and very much interlinked with stress. Also, it’s essential to have turmeric with black pepper, a fat such as coconut milk and ginger – they all increase the bioavailability (which is why you find these in our products too). I include it daily in a morning and afternoon potion, or as my bed time Golden Turmeric tea.
 

”I include turmeric daily in a morning and afternoon potion, or as my bed time Golden Turmeric tea.” Zoe LVH
Golden Turmeric tea | photo: Wunder Workshop

 
 
Where do you source the ingredients for your products?
The majority of the ingredients that we source are from small community and family run farms from Sri Lanka. We go out there once a year to either be there for the harvest or sewing season. We only work with organic farms and prefer to work with non-monocultural forest gardening farms. This means that the natural biodiversity of Sri Lanka’s fauna and flora is kept in order, by planting crops like turmeric and ginger in the shade of cacao or jackfruit trees, which keeps the soil full of its nutrients. We have also started to work with small farms in other countries, and are currently speaking to farmers in Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Slovenia, China and even Afghanistan which we are very excited about.

We live in a hectic world and more and more people are trying to go back to basics, to find a balance, to live mindfully. How do you find balance every day?
This is essential to me and I am all too familiar with this feeling of being consumed by busyness and our hectic surroundings in places like London. I used to just brush it off and ignore it, but I have become more and more sensitive to the sensory overstimulation. I am an introvert and an empath, so I find it incredibly difficult at times to be surrounded by lots of people. It is as if I can feel everyone’s emotions and sometimes I need to learn to turn this off as it can be very overwhelming. For me, the best thing is to bring my energetic vibrations back into equilibrium and I do this through sound healing and visiting a flotation tank a couple of times a month. Twice a week I go for an infrared sauna, which feels so healing just being in stillness and warmth. I also do breathwork every morning to really check in with myself and go to yoga once a week. This routine enables me to be calm and have inner balance in a busy place like London.
 
 

”I think the most important thing is
to be kind to yourself and have patience.
A healthy mind is equally important as a healthy diet.”

 
 
What is your advice to someone starting out on the path of healthy eating?
I think the most important thing is to be kind to yourself and have patience. A healthy mind is equally important as a healthy diet. One cannot work without the other. Denying yourself things can lead to negative emotions associated with your diet, so I always believe we should integrate nutritious ingredients and slowly wind down from the “bad” ingredients. I decided to stop eating sweet things 12 years ago at university, and the first 3 months I would still crave sweet things occasionally, but after that I never looked back and whenever I try something sweet, now I literally don’t like it and am glad that my body has understood that. We can’t force ourselves to do these things quickly and we need to wind our body and our minds away from them slowly and listen to our intuition as to what works well for us.

Why did you stop eating sweet things altogether? Does this mean your diet does not include any natural sweeteners either, like honey, dates or agave syrup? I am asking because I have been using only these natural sweeteners for years in very small proportions and whenever I try to stick to one recipe (I always make them much less sweet), I can not eat them. And I think I would have no problem if I gave them up entirely. And I think you are so right that if you educate your body in a certain way, it will naturally follow that path.
Yes, that’s correct, there simply isn’t a healthy sugar. Especially agave, which is so widely used within the “health food world”, is very high in fructose and creates havoc for our metabolic system. I had been reading a lot about the effects of sugar on our body and decided that I didn’t want to consume it any longer. Also, when we say we have a “sweet tooth” and are craving sugar, it’s usually our body signalling that we are missing essential nutrients/minerals such as magnesium for example. When I travel to tropical countries, or when it is summer in England, I will however eat seasonal fruits as it’s a wonderful way to tune in with nature and the season. In Ayuverda, honey is considered a medicine and I treat it this way too. We have a Golden Turmeric Honey, and I only use it when I have a cold and blend it with hot water and lemon which is very soothing for the throat.
 

Golden Balance, Adaptogen and Turmeric blend | photo: Wunder Workshop

 
 
What are the perks and challenges of running an ethical food brand?
The perks are the feeling of purpose. I wake up every single day excited about what lies ahead of me and that I am doing something that hopefully has a positive impact. I believe in small steps, and, as a small brand, we are hoping to raise awareness for a transparent spice and food supply chain. Moving away from the old patterns of the tea and spice trade, from colonial times, and we want to bring the attention to the farmers and the growers. The challenges are the red tape surrounding importing and sourcing ingredients abroad, and the fact that customers are often not aware of the importance of eating organic over conventional spices, or the fact that conventional spices contain numerous additives and heavy metals. Or that it is better for our soil to avoid mono-culture farmed ingredients. We are trying to educate along the way, whilst being transparent. But it is hard sometimes to get to the source of things. Also, as a female brand owner, there are plenty of challenges in the food world which is heavily male dominated. But all these things just spur me on!

You have also written a book with Tom Smale, the co-founder of Wunder Workshop, called Super Root Spices. Could you tell me a little bit about it?
This was really inspired through my upbringing and all the interesting ingredients we have come across during our travels. All the recipes include at least one interesting medicinal root and we have made these recipes as accesible as possible.

How important is food in changing people’s attitude from curing disease to preventing disease?
I think this is very important, if not fundamental to our lives. Let food be thy medicine, as Hippocrates famously stated. The main issue is that the current education system doesn’t teach medical students more than a term on nutrition, whereas that is a leading cause for many diseases. Once we come to understand that what we put into (and onto!) our bodies effects our wellbeing, we can see a shift in our approach to health which is a long-term investment, worth making.

Do you, as a brand, have any specific projects aiming to educate the larger public about the benefits of healthy and sustainable eating?
We have various events, workshops and talks mainly in London where we talk about the benefits of our ingredients, especially CBD and the various other ingredients that we use. Also, through speaking to the press, we aim to reach a wider public with our message about integrating turmeric and other spices into a daily routine and therefore taking on a preventative approach to health.

Living well is not just about the nourishment of food. What else do you do on a daily basis to feel and look your best? What is your philosophy on self-nourishment, self-care and living well?
As mentioned above, I nourish myself by going to yoga, sound healing, laughing with friends and finding a daily inner balance. My philosophy on living well is balance. I love meditating, gong baths, organic potions but also a glass of beautiful wine and pizza.
 

Zoe Lind van’t Hof | photo: Zoe Morton

 
 

”Stay focused on the present and living in the now.”

 
 
Someone once told me that you have to care enough about style to have any. What does style mean to you?
Style for me is very much a tool to express myself, I have always found it hard to have just one style, I like anything from chic to hippie and it really shows what mood I am in. I think it is one of the most fun means to communicate with the world around you. On days when I wear very colourful things, such as my friend’s Zazi Vintage coat, I notice how many people interact with me and smile or just shout ‘awesome coat’, which can be so heartwarming to interact with strangers, through a means of our style.

What is your idea of beauty? Inside and out. Any tips you’d care to pass along?
Beauty really for me means radiance, as cliché as it sounds, but I think you can see the soul through someone’s eyes, and I think beauty means a beautiful soul and a kind heart. A healthy lifestyle including nutritious foods and a peaceful mind have a big impact how much you radiate through your eyes and your skin. From the outside I believe a healthy skincare routine is important too, especially in polluted places like London. Also, I start the day with splashing ice-cold water on my face, followed by a cold shower. It is invigorating and gives you a radiant glow.

Words you live by:
Stay focused on the present situation and living in the now.

You are an inspiration for living well and with purpose. But who and what inspires you on a daily basis?
My late mother, her vulnerability yet beautiful strength and her resilience. She was a single parent and raised me by herself from the age of 1, she often worked 7 days a week to make everything possible for my education and our dreams. I live in immense gratitude to her every single day.

One thing you can not start the day without:
My Ayurvedic copper tongue scraper. I know it sounds weird, but once you start integrating that into your morning routine there is no way back.
 

Wunder Workshop Golden Shrooms, Adaptogen and Medicinal Mushrooms blend
photo: Lynda Laird

 
 
Food-wise, how do you approach each meal? Which are the ingredients, foods and drinks that are part of your daily menu?
I receive a weekly organic vegetable box with seasonal food, so I never know exactly what I will get, but the vegetables always form the center of my meals and I will add things such as pasta, bread, millet, potatoes, rice, etc. I make sure to also have a big green salad every day. My key ingredients that I use daily are organic olive oil, coconut oil, turmeric, sea salt, apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut and some nuts.

What would you recommend as a pick-me-up drink in the afternoon?
During the afternoon I avoid caffeine as, for me personally, I feel it rushing through my body until very late at night, so usually I make a golden potion with Golden Shrooms (cordyceps and reishi mushrooms, turmeric, ginger and cacao), I often add some more herbs depending what I feel my body needs, but that might be pine pollen, Chaga or Ashwagandha.

Do you drink or have you ever drunken coffee?
I drink coffee about once every 2 weeks maybe, I don’t have anything against it and research shows it is actually considered benefical to our health, but I am so sensitive that it makes me incredibly high or nervous, but I usually utilise this when I have to write an article or want to do some design work as it puts me in a very focused place for a couple of hours and then I crash. So it’s not something I can do every day. Also, I would hate to be dependent on it.
 
 

How to make Golden Turmeric Latte: a step by step guide by Wunder Workshop

 
 
What is one favourite thing to do in London and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
My favourite quality of London is its exciting energy, which, as mentioned before, can also be too overwhelming, but when one is in the right state of mind it can be exhilarating. Going out to small independent multi-cultural eateries with friends, sitting outside on warm summer nights, cycling to Hampstead Heath for a dip in the pond followed by sunset picnics. Those are my favourite moments.

Where would we find you when not working?
Hiking and swimming in Deia – Mallorca.

In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?
The time with our loved ones, friends and family.

What makes you happy at the end of the day?
A productive day, followed by beautiful food and wine either shared with loved ones or also happily alone.
 

Turmeric CBD oil / Golden Turmeric Honey / Super Root Spices book
photos: Wunder Workshop

 
 

Website and online shop: wunderworkshop.com
Instagram: @wunderworkshop | Twitter: @wunderworkshop
Book: Super Root Spices, available here

 
 

Posted by classiq in Beauty & Beautiful Living, Interviews | | Leave a comment

The French Noir Anti-Hero and The Trench Coat

The trench coat of the French noir anti-hero is either a purpose coat, a detail of realism and narrative drive or a stylized element that values aesthetic and atmosphere. Two films of two great humanist French directors, François Truffaut and Claude Sautet, serve best to emphasise the first, whereas Jean-Pierre Melville reaches the most abstract of styles with Alain Delon’s Jeff Costello character and costumes in Le Samouraï.

Charles Aznavour in “Tirez sur le pianiste” (1960) | Les Films de la Pléiade

 
Charles Aznavour in Tirez sour le pianiste, 1960, directed by François Truffaut

Tirez sur le pianiste was François Truffaut’s homage to the American B-movie, a genre he loved, drew from in his own work, but originally subverted. He disregarded the conventions of cinema, thus making Tirez probably the most typically Nouvelle Vague of all his films. “I turned my back to what was expected of me and took my own pleasure as my own rule of conduct”, the director said, shifting tone significantly from Les 400 coups. The plot, adapted from the book Down There by David Goodis, is classic noir. But Truffaut brought in many other themes he wanted to talk about, from glory, success and failure, to family, women and love.

Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) focuses on the destiny of a man once known as a gifted pianist, Edouard Saroyan, who leaves behind his life and faces his downfall in a small Parisian bar as a band pianist under the name of Charlie Kohler. After a visit from his gangster brother one night, Charlie is accidentally dragged into complicated circumstances that he can not control. Truffaut wanted Charles Aznavour in the role, whom he adored in George Franju’s La tête contre les murs (Head Against the Wall), 1959. “Aznavour and Truffaut are alike in many ways,” commented Serge Toubiana, “same sickly look, same dark and feverous eyes, full of suppressed anger, ready to blow”. Truffaut thought of Aznavour as being vulnerable, but not a victim, therefore his fragility allowed the audience to identify with him.

Charlie Kohler is an ordinary guy who has found success and then descended again to an ordinary present. He is a reserved, quiet, remote, lost in his own thoughts. He “has the air of a melancholy outsider, a nowhere man, destined to remain homeless in the world. Only at the piano is Charlie capable of exposing his feelings,” says in the book Film Noir 100 All-Time Favorites. His trench is both an everyman’s coat, a reflection of the common life that he can not escape from and a shield from his past and the outer world.
 

Lino Ventura in “Classe tous risques” (1960) | Mondex Films, Les Films Odéon

 
Lino Ventura in Classe tous risques, 1960, directed by Claude Sautet

I honestly don’t remember the impression Classe tous risques made on me the first time I watched it, many years ago. But when I rewatched it recently, it just blew me away. That long opening sequence, from the train station (one of the most beautiful train station shots in cinema) to the hold-up in the streets of Milan, that was the moment that already sealed it for me. It felt so incredibly real and naturalistic. It was shot in the busy streets of Milan, in broad daylight amongst unaware passers-by who react in real time onscreen – isn’t this one of the key elements of New Wave filmmaking (and one of the elements that made Godard’s À bout de souffle, released just one week before in 1960, a revelation)?And yet, Sautet’s film, one of the most impressive debuts in the history of cinema, was dismissed upon its release as old-fashioned and static.

In that first sequence, you can breath in the desperation of Abel Davos (Lino Ventura). It very much feels in the realm of human existence. Because real life, too, gets messy. And you have to deal with it. Abel is a convicted killer who escaped France years ago and has been living in Italy with his family, but now thinks it’s time to return to France after one more robbery that will help him get across the border. The film is about survival, friendship, loyalty and betrayal among thieves – Melville will approach the same theme, but two years later, in 1962, with Le doulos. But what truly sets Classe tous risques apart is that the plot and the characters seem anchored in reality, in the present. Because of the children. A school for his two children is the only thing Abel wants. You may not understand or condone his past, but you are rooting for him at this moment in his life. If I could sum up the film in one image, it would be this: A man walking on the street; a few meters behind him, two children following him. As a side note, all these elements that make the film stand apart were beautifully captured by illustrator Tony Stella in his poster for the film.

“Classe tous risques is the best film adaptation of any of my books. It doesn’t have any nightclub scenes. It doesn’t treat the subject as folklore. And it has more heart than Le deuxième souffle,” said José Giovanni, who also wrote the books on which Jacques Becker’s Le trou (another 1960 masterpiece) and Melville’s Le deuxième souffle (1966) were based.

Sautet seeks out the remains of humanity in his characters, regardless of their past and crimes, whereas Melville’s characters only live by a certain code of honour, stripped by emotions, family, wives and lovers. Lino Ventura is a doomed man (soon widow) on the run, he has a sad, liven-in face. His clothes look lived-in, too. His trousers and jacket reflect his turmoil and disrupted life. Only when he goes off to settle matters with his former partners he puts on a trench coat. He has to look like he means business, because he does, and his children are his only drive. He can not escape his fate, but he must do right by his children. There is nothing more powerful than that. “A bison of a man possessed of a bashed-in face of surprising beauty, charisma and soulfulness, Ventura in this movie constitutes, for me, the French Gangster – as Tragic Hero, of course – distilled to its quintessence of romantic fatalism and calm acceptance of impending death,” John Patterson beautifully wrote.
 

Alain Delon in “Le Samouraï” (1967) | CICC, Fida Cinematografica

 
Alain Delon in Le Samouraï, 1967, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

In Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le flambeur (1956), Roger Duchesne’s character, too, seemed anchored in reality, with his crumpled trench coat, looking more like he was playing himself – Duchesne was a gambler in real life and in the film he looked like he was wearing his real clothes, staying true to his nature. It was Jean Paul Belmondo’s Silien in Le doulos who paved the way towards that clean and crisp aesthetic from Melville’s later films. The height of that almost abstract aesthetic was reached by Alain Delon in Le Samouraï.

In Le Samouraï, Delon recedes in the safety of his trench coat. It’s his armour. Together with the tilted downward hat, the trench is also part of what has come to define the protagonist of films noir. But regardless of Melville’s passion for all things American and for Hollywood gangster and noir movies, he’s a different kind of noir anti-hero. He’s Melville’s noir anti-hero. Like a samourai, Jef Costello abides by a code of conduct and leads a solitary existence. His dressing is like a ritual, systematically putting on his hat and coat before going out to get a job done. Everything about him is cool and calculated. It’s like he is fitting himself for battle.

Le Samouraï is a film that extracts its substance from cinema and belongs to the cinemas, so it uses words only when absolutely necessary and vital, said Rui Nogueira in an interview. It is a film where clothes speak much more than words. In a career-defining performance, in the role of a Parisian contract killer who has realised he is being double-crossed by his employees and seeks revenge, Alain Delon, with his exceptional good looks and impeccable look, meets Melville’s idea of the gangster as an image. Clothes make the man in Le Samouraï. Everything is simple, stark, clean-cut, primordial to his lifestyle – the trim grey suit, the black slim tie and white button-down shirt, another black suit, the inky wool coat, the hat, the trench. Delon is dressed with the finest precision, but he seems completely unaware of his appearance. He’s completely detached from everything, hardly betraying an emotion. It’s part of the job, of his profession. He lives and kills alone. There is a scene towards the beginning of the film, where Delon, stopped at a traffic light, is watched admiringly by a pretty young woman. His body language is minimal and signals that he has noticed her gaze, but he only gives her a blank look and turns away, without even satisfying her with a smile. Nothing distracts him from his fateful path.
 
editorial sources: “Truffaut on Cinema”, compiled by Anne Gillain / “François Truffaut at Work”, by Carole Le Berre / Serge Toubiana presentation of “Tirez sur le pianiste” / John Patterson essay for “Classe tous risques” (BFI) / “Classe tous risques: Beautiful Friendships”, by Bernard Tavernier (Criterion Collection) / “Melville on Melville”, by Rui Nogueira / interview with Thierry Crifo in the documentary “Diary of A Villain” (StudioCanal, The Criterion Collection)

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Dylan McKay Inspired Teenagers to Be Authentic

Luke Perry as Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills 90210 | CBS

 
Every generation has its own cool rebel. I have always taken pride in being a child of the early eighties. The last frontier of Generation X, the last great generation, before the existence of the online as we know it today and before virtual un-reality messing up our lives and our world, before smart phones, Facebook, Spotify and Netflix. The generation of grunge music, indie films, anti-fashion, cultural upheaval and soul searching. It’s difficult to explain to those growing up in this age how truly freeing and different (good different) it felt and was back then.

Of course, to a teenager of the 90s, things did not seem that extraordinary and put-together, still figuring out what to do in life. I had not yet learned to fight against the accepted confines of society, I had no taste in music whatsoever, I had not yet discovered my passion for cinema, nor had experienced the films of River Phoenix. But I had Dylan McKay, the other icon of the ‘90s, and the most important and pervasive tv series in my teen life, Beverly Hills 90210. The James Dean-like hair style, the melancholic glare, the restlessness, the washed-out blue jeans, the white t-shirts, the checkered shirts, the black Chuck Taylors, the motorcycle.

Luke Perry’s Dylan McKay arrived in Beverly Hills 90210 late and without apparent effort (he didn’t appear in the pilot episode), but as soon as he did, he took pop culture by storm. He was propelled into teenage conscience and became an aspirational model. He redefined cool. A sensitive bad boy who didn’t have to sacrifice vulnerability for virility, who knew how to be fiery without being fisty. That’s where the deep sense of indentification with him came from: because he contained within himself our ambiguity, our human weaknesses.

Dylan McKay was from Los Angeles and understood film, the movie theater and its place. When he makes his appearance in that second episode, before his first date with Brenda Walsh, who is from Minnesota, he asks her if is she had ever seen Animal Crackers. She says she may have, once, on tv. And he replies that Animal Crackers on the big screen is a different thing. So he takes her to the cinema to watch the 1930 Marx Brothers film, but once they arrive, he changes his mind. He easily shifts his expression in the way that a consummately modest knowledgeable person might reveal profound thoughts self-deprecatingly, as if to excuse himself for his intellect, so as not to make others feel bad or not to put himself in the center of attention.

Dylan McKay became cool not only because of his looks and rebellious nature, but because of his strong sense of independence, because he was earthbound and authentic. I only wish that, as a teenager, I understood it. That I understood myself and my place in the world. That I didn’t have to fit in. That I had my own voice. That I always must stand by what I believe in. That I must be myself. That I must go my own way. That’s the quality Dylan McKay’s character conveyed and I will always cherish it. Thank you, Luke.

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