Saturday, June 25, 2011
The other night, I hooked up the TV and Blu-ray player to the generator and watched Rififi, a French crime film, directed in 1955 by Jules Dassin. Because I used the TV upstairs, my parents either had to watch the foregin, black and white film, or go to bed - so they watched it with me. I think this is maybe the first time that anyone other than Anthony has sat and watched an older, foreign film with me, so that was sort of fun. It was a really great movie - we all loved the story and the style, and it reminded us of all of our favorite heist films. It had a much more noir style, though, than other heist movies. It was great because it wasn't just about the crime - it was also about the characters and the consequences.
The film is about four guys who put together what seems to be the perfect crime. After spending five years in prison, Tony le Stéphanois meets his old crime pals Jo and Mario Ferrati. They start to devise a plan to steal all the jewelry out of the safe at Mappin & Webb, an expensive jewelry store. They find a guy named Cesar who specializes in safe cracking, and together, they start to perfect how they are going to pull off this heist. They even hook up an alarm system like the one that is used in the jewelry store so they can figure out what triggers it (vibrations, they discover). Their plan goes off without a hitch, but things get complicated when Cesar gives his mistress a ring that he stole.
I can't write about this movie without writing about the incredible heist scene. It was, by far, the most tense crime scene I've watched in a movie for a long time. For one thing whole film is so moody looking, shot in beautiful black and white. It's dumb to mention that, but I thought that the b&w really added some cool atmosphere to the movie that I don't normally see in crime films. To get to the jewels, they decide to drill through the ceiling - the apartment upstairs will be vacant. The whole scene, almost a half hour long, is silent. There is no music, there is no dialogue, and there is no sound other than the little taps, clicks, and drills. It feels like perfection - not only do the character think they devised the perfect crime, but they all know what to do so well that they do not even need to speak.
Every step of the crime is shot with so much detail. Wikipedia claims that criminals have actually repeatedly tried to mimic this crime, and Ebert says that it was actually banned in France for a while, for fear of people learning how to steal. You really do see so many more...instructional details...than one might expect from a film. It was really interesting to watch, because the lack of sound or dialogue really forced you to focus on what they were doing. I'm not too bright so I really doubt that I could go out and commit the same crime, but I could see how other people might have been inspired, to say the least.
It's hard to write about the film because there is so much more story that happens after the jewel theft. Most crime movies (or heist movies, I guess, like Oceans 11 and the like), pretty much just end after the crime has been pulled off successfully. Maybe there's a shot or two of people looking smug or gloating, but that's sort of it - the point of the story was the crime, not so much the aftermath. In Rififi, there is a huge focus on what happens afterward. It makes it more of a film noir, really, since those tend to focus on the consequences of crime instead of just the crime itself.
I don't want to just go around and spoil the whole end of it, though. Part of what was so much fun was seeing all of the aftermath of their crime. It was a tense end of the film, as Jo's son is kidnapped - to be returned if they hand over the jewels. The men realize that Cesar, who gave the ring to his mistress only to later have it be recognized thus pinning the crime on them, basically betrayed them. I just loved that there was something after the crime was pulled off, and something interesting and exciting, at that. It really had a great ending, and I was pleasantly surprised by it.
I was glad that I took the time to watch this movie, even though it was a bit difficult. It was kind of neat to watch it during a power outage, and it was nice that I was able to watch it with my family instead of just by myself like normal. My mom ended up really liking it - she was so impressed by the silent jewel theft and the ending. I think the movie felt really unique, and it was sort of fun for all of us to talk about what modern crime movies had to have been inspired by this one. I highly recommend it - I'm sure anyone who likes crime films or film noir will enjoy this one. :)
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Rififi
Buy it on Amazon