Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rififi (Du rififi chez les hommes)

This is a 1955 French crime drama by blacklisted American director Jules Dassin. It earned him the best director award at Cannes that year. There seems to have been a two-movie wave of French gangster films with odd slang in their titles, in the middle 50s. The other was Jacques Becker’s “Touchez pas au grisbi” (1954).

Although “grisbi” seems to be actual French slang, “rififi” may have been made up by Auguste Le Breton, the author of the novel that the film was based on. It seems to mean something like “rough and tumble”. The term was obscure enough that Dassin inserted a goofy but enjoyable nightclub song and dance number in the film to explain it.

Rififi was shot on location in Paris, in the winter. The black and white photography is beautiful. After a certain amount of time has passed, any film shot on location has a second existence as a historical record (have I said that before?). It’s a pleasure to see Paris in 1955.

The movie is famous in film nerd circles for the long safe-cracking scene done with no dialogue or music, that is wonderfully tense and enthralling. Interestingly, the above mentioned passage of time has made another scene even more intense for the 2009 viewer. A wonderfully good natured and oblivious five year old boy, outfitted with a cowboy hat and a plastic gun, is being driven home by a gangster who is not in good shape. They are in a convertible with the top down. The kid is jumping back and forth and climbing over the seat.

I knew that the car was most likely being towed and the camera truck was right beside it but I kept thinking, “The kid is going to fall out!” and “Why isn’t he in his god damned car seat?” Oh.

This is an excellent movie.

1 comment:

Joe Woodside said...

While breaking into the jewelry store garners the praise of the "nerds," I loved the small side sequences of the partners in crime and their world. Little views of a French underworld peopled with gruff crooks wreathed in tobacco smoke, dressed in expensive rumpled suits. The obsessive, if not slightly perverse, fatal attachment of the Italian(?) crook to the lovely nightclub singer, whose song "Rififi" sets a forbidding tone of doom for the band of thieves. Their dealing with the "fence" in London. The drug addicted bad-guy crook and his little papers of heroin passing out while guarding the boy or stealing from his brother. Grey scenes of Paris, including the little boy in the car.