In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Gritty crime action as not what I was expecting. But gritty crime action is what I got.”
The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“There’s not a safe that can resist Cesar and not a woman that Cesar can resist.”
The French may have invented a new kind of raw reality with the New Wave of the late 50s and early 60s, but I still don’t think of France when I want to see something gritty. As real as those movies were, they were more about finding tragedy, or beauty, or whatever it was they were looking for, in mundanity, the everyday Paris they lived in. Not the fabled City of Lights romanticised beyond anything people like Jean-Luc Goddard or Francois Truffaut recognised as their reality. So, when I decided to watch a movie that was not only French, but one that also pre dated the French New Wave by a few years, gritty crime action as not what I was expecting. But gritty crime action is what I got with Rififi.
In a smokey backroom, Tony (Jean Servais) has lost every cent he has in a card game. Determined to play on, no one will take his bet unless he has cold, hard cash to back it up. With one phone call, his friend Jo (Carl Mohner) arrives with more money. We learn that Jo is so quick to help, because years ago, Tony took the fall for both of them on a robbery they committed. While serving his time in prison, Tony’s girlfriend (Marie Sabouret as Mado) took up with local gangster, Grutter (Marcel Lupovici). As well as the cash, Jo delivers two pieces of news. One, that Mado is back in town. And two, that he has a jewellery smash and grab job coming up that he wants to cut Tony in on.
Tony declines the job, but acts on Jo’s other revelation by going to see Mado. When that doesn’t result in the passionate reconciliation Tony expected, he lets Jo know that he wants in on the jewellery store job. But Tony isn’t interested in a small time smash and grab of the front window, he wants to pull off a full scale heist, emptying the store’s safe for millions of francs worth of merchandise. For that, they’ll need more specialists, including Jo’s friend Mario (Ropbert Manuel) who came up with the original idea, and Italian safe cracker Cesar (Jules Dassin).
Rififi is a dense, plot heavy movie. Everything I’ve described above takes place in the first act. Even the long, intricate heist sequence is done and dusted by a little past the half way mark. There’s still a lot of story, a lot of character moments and a lot of high stakes drama to come long after the robbery set piece. Yet with all of that in just two hours, it never seems over stuffed or rushed. Even though it’s clearly Tony’s story, every character gets developed, every character gets an arc to follow, and every character gets a real, emotional reason to be a part of this story.
Even if you don’t give a crap about that kind of thing, Rififi is worth watching for the heist sequence alone. A solid 20 minutes of dialogue free visuals, watching these professionals go about their ingenious plan in all of its minute, exact, glorious detail. There isn’t even any music to ratchet up the tension. The deafening silence, waiting for the sound of a pin to drop, generates more tension and anxiety than any manipulative score ever could.