Thursday, July 8, 2010

RIFIFI (115)

the film: rififi (115)
the director: jules dassin (the naked city (380), brute force (383), etc.)

what is it: only my favorite film amongst the sizable number of criterion collection films i've perused.  gritty, grim, depressing 'till the end - almost the perfect crime film.

a lil' bit of history: the film's centerpiece, an immaculate 30-minute heist sequence that features no words, no music, no imposed sound, has actually been recreated by real life criminals.  the types with guns and rap sheets.

the expectation: i've seen it before and couldn't wait to dive back in to the glowing perfection of this seamless film.

the experience: sequestered in a beautiful home with a whopping sound system and an enormous television, the experience, though broken apart by much needed sleep, was near perfect.

1. the way crime should be portrayed

rififi (115) is a beautiful film.  a beautiful film about characters that as a viewer you feel drawn too, entranced by, even rooting for by film's end.  but in the long run rififi (115) isn't a film about glorifying the world of crime.  instead it's a dark peek in to the brutal rules that govern the world.  yes, you will be amazed by how artfully put together the heist in the film is, but the aftermath quickly disperses the hollywood sheen.  these characters live and die by a code, a series of life-long traditions that govern their professional existence, and the lines of friends and family and co-workers mean nothing when they come in to question.  the final twenty-five minutes of this film are brutally heart-wrenching, the kind of bait-and-switch that boosts you up only so it hurts more when it knocks you over.  crime, on a basic level, can be a terrible terrible thing and rififi (115) in all its black and white glory, deftly portrays this.

2. the heist

read anything about rififi (115) and you'll read about the heist sequence in the film.  near thirty minutes long, the heist sequence is told without sound of any kind (aside from the normal scuffle of your average heist). as a reviewer, who on a weekly basis is force-fed enormous, big budget bits of hyper-kinetic action rife with ear-grating explosions and mind-manipulating music, rififi's (115) silent crime finale is refreshing.  instead of being "wowed" by the giant special effects and cheesy one-liners you're locked in to the characters and the very simple, yet difficult act of breaking in to a well-secured diamond merchant's vault-like storefront.  the character's tenseness, the sweat that drips from their faces, the pin-drop atmosphere isn't obscured by booming timpanis or synthy reverb.  instead it sits in the foreground and each tick of the cinematic clock seems to crush the air out of your chest a little bit more.

3.  the after-heist

modern movies, at least those birthed from the loins of hollywood, have a need to wrap everything up in a fiery finale.  to tie the loose ends that the film has unearthed in a blaze of action.  bad guys die, good guys live, lovers love - it's just the manner of film we've become accustomed to.  yet, rififi (115) doesn't even attempt to pull together the loose ends in a action-packed ending.  instead the heist finishes with 
thirty minutes left in the film, and the unresolved bits then start a-flowing.  all of sudden the magic of the heist has fallen to the wayside and the dark underbelly that rests below the surface quickly takes center stage.  bullets are fired, friendships are tested, loyalties are broken, and the world of crime suddenly doesn't seem so magical.  instead it seems exactly what it is: dangerous, seedy, and all about the love of money.

4. tony the stephanois

there's something about the portrayal of tony the stephanois by jean servais, the star of les miserables and  le plaisir (444).  this is a gangster we've seen before, but not at this stage in his life.  this is a crook fresh out the slammer but without the fresh gleam hollywood usually presents them with.  this is a broken man, one who once supped on caviar at fancy restaurants and wooed beautiful women in lavish apartments dripping with antiquity.  this is a broken man who now sweats when he walks, smokes cigarettes to ease the pain, and finds solace in the peaceful suburbanity of another man's family.  he is violent and angry and ready to no longer be a part of this world.  servais plays him like a character who has seen too much, a man who has lived by the rules for too long and now has emerged from a stint in the pen without the knowledge of how the rules have evolved.  he's an old-timer in a newbies world, and the violence that marks the end of the film, seems to adequately fit the stephanois' grim life view.  he performed a crime, and because he didn't see it from every angle, he has to kill or be killed to survive.  his is a deep, dark, depressing world, and even the rekindled love of a woman can't bring him back from the edge.

final thoughts:

don't even need 'em.  watch this film.  many times over.


criterion counsel: on a rampage right now.  who knows how many films i can devour before i leave!

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