This week I returned to caper films. Since nearly all of the previous films of this genre I had watched had been British films I decided to see what the French had to offer.
The first of my selection was Rififi by Jules Dassin. it starts out with many of the familiar tropes with Tony “le Stéphanois”, a hardened professional played by Jean Servais, fresh out of prison after five years and is offered the opportunity to do a job, in this case robbing an exclusive jewelry store with a state of the art safe and security system.
The planning and execution robbery itself is a study in meticulous precision taking a nail biting half hour in near silence with a level of precision and accuracy to the point I have heard that actual thieves have used it as a reference.
Things start going badly when a rival crook who is the current sugar daddy of Tony’s mistress (who Tony had brutally beaten because of this) finds out about this when the team’s safe cracker makes the mistake of passing a ring from the store to a barmaid at the crook’s club. The team gets hunted down one by one until the son of Jo “le Suédois”, Tony’s partner, is taken hostage, which leads to a tragic finale.
This is a dark, cynical bit well crafted It amazes me how a film that is technically less violent than most crime films I’ve watched is more gripping because of all of the terrible brutalities that are merely suggested off camera.
High end jewelers seems to be the proffered target since that’s what the two thieves in the second film on my list Le Cercle Rouge by, Jean-Pierre Melville, go after.
We start the film by following the two in two separate but parallel stories one, Corey who has been told about the job by a corrupt prison guard a day before he is going to leave prison. The other Vogel was being escorted from Marseilles to Paris. He manages to escape from the moving train. By sheer chance he manages to hide in the unlocked trunk of Corey’s car and get’s driven through the police parameter hunting for him.
Later Vogel and Corey(who saw Vogel crawl into his trunk) strike up a friendship with Vogel saving Corey from a group of thugs who had been hunting Corey.
From here the film goes back and fourth from the manhunt led by Commissioner Mattei and our two protagonists planning and finally carrying out the heist (which involves being able to shoo out the alarm system with a sniper rifle (it’s best not to think about it too much))
Regrettably while this film was very well done it really didn’t work for me. It was very slow paced with a weird existentialist streak which I had trouble following.