Sunday, 15 August 2010


For my recent birthday (let's not mention how old I was, I'm in denial), a favourite and long time friend of mine sent me the perfect gift. Movie night in a box. Bags of sweet and salted popcorn, crispy M&Ms, jelly beans and some gorgeous dark chocolate with ginger and orange, hid two DVDs; Rififi and Sweet Smell of Success.

My friend, let us call him L, has impeccable taste. Impeccable. His choices were two of his favourites and I'm touched that he wanted to share them with me. So, as I languished with the flu on Friday night (yes it's still ongoing, no I don't want to talk about it, it's too dull for words), I watched Rififi.

Rififi is a classic 1950's French film noir; hard boiled men who do what they must, passionate yet passive women, cigarette smoke curling in the air, basement night clubs and of course, a heist.

Set in Paris, Tony's just got out of a 5 year stretch in prison, with his health ailing, he returns to his old haunts and to reclaim his old girlfriend, Mado. His friends try to persuade him to do one last job with them.  Tony's not interested, he's interested in finding Mado, except she's now with another mobster. After a heated confrontation with Mado, Tony throws caution to the wind and joins his friends to plan one last heist; the ultimate heist - stealing F240 million of jewels from a jewellery shop. What could possibly go wrong?

I became immersed in a world of distressed dames who don't give a damn and men who used to be better, and know it.

Shot in black and white, the sparse script, which the actors almost literally spit out in each scene, is accented at all times by the lighting. It's stark and harsh, illuminating the character's faces to an almost ghoulish effect.

Tony le Stephanois

Style wise the film has it in spades, the strong, atmospheric cinematography imbibes the whole film with a sense of claustrophobia, especially in the 30 minute heist sequence. The lighting, and the direction pull you in until you're in Tony's gang, one of them, and praying as they are that they can pull it off.  You can't look away, you hold your breath every time they do, and all the while Tony and his friends don't utter a word. Not for 30 minutes. So simple, so effective, and a testament to the director, Jules Dassin's mastery of suspense.

A scene from the heist sequence

I can't tell you how it ends without ruining it,  except that it does so abruptly. When Tony's luck turns, and it does, you know that it has to end, and that it won't end well. But despite yourself, you hope for one more roll of the dice. When the word 'fin' appeared I felt as though I'd been slapped and like a true film-noir dame I enjoyed the sting. 

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