Friday, August 8, 2008

#42: Rififi


Directed by Jules Dassin
Written by Auguste Le Breton, Rene Wheeler and Jules Dassin (based on the novel by Le Breton)
Released April 13, 1955 (France)

Cold fucking blooded, and one of the greatest heist films ever made.

If you ever need single handed proof that the French are not a bunch of softies, Rififi (a title which basically translates to "rough and tumble") is the movie for you. The story of a criminal just out of jail who plans a massive heist as a sort of revenge against the people who wronged him, Rififi, despite being made 54 years ago, holds up as one of the best heist films ever made, and certainly a classic of French cinema.

One of most creatively daring and impressive things about the film is director Jules Dassin's decision to film the half hour heist, which takes place about halfway through the movie, with no dialogue or background movie. It pays off, creating tension by not interfering or overly inserting himself by distracting the audience from how a jewel heist like the one filmed here would need to be pulled off. Dassin even covers the planning of the heist with such a meticulous hand that the IMDB Trivia section for the film claims that the film was taken out of theaters in Mexico because thieves were learning too much about how to plan similar crimes.

Everything about Rififi is way ahead of its time, from the numerous acts of violence (like Jean Servais' character beating his ex with a belt before sending her out in the street) to Dassin's virtually flawless direction.

This was an especially special film for Dassin because the filmmaker was one of many in Hollywood who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era of communist witch hunting. He had been unable to make a movie for half a decade before Rififi came along, and this film became a hit in Europe and began the restoration of his reputation and good name.

Thank God for that, because this film is a triumph in every way. Fantastic acting, great dialogue, dark moments of classic film noir highlit by sly bits of dry humor. There's even a sexy musical number, and a riveting closing "car race" to end the movie that gets you to dig your toes into your carpet one last time before the credits roll.

Naturally, Hollywood has just announced a remake (they haven't changed the title yet, but I'd bet you dollars to doughnuts they will) starring Al Pacino. I'm trying not to get a bad taste in my mouth about that idea, but it's hard not to when the original is so masterfully made. Remember when they remade The Omen, or even worse, Psycho? What a waste of time and energy.

Part of the charm of a movie like this, or Psycho, is that joy of seeing a movie that came out so long ago and yet is so bold and in your face you catch yourself thinking, "They might not even be able to make a movie like this today."

Judging from some of those remakes, they simply cant.

For more on Rififi:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia
- Buy the Criterion DVD.

The official trailer:

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