Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955): France

Reviewed by Byron Potau.  Viewed on DVD.

Click to EnlargeThe greatest revenge is success.  If this is true, then director Jules Dassin’s 1955 Rififi is a sweet revenge against the HUAC which caused him to be blacklisted in the early 1950’s.  Following his blacklist, Dassin, who had not made a film since 1950, was invited to direct this French film noir which subsequently earned him several honors including Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival.

When recently released career criminal Tony “The Stephanois” (Jean Servais) is approached about a small heist to steal three diamonds out of a jewelry store window, he decides he can plan an even bigger one to rob the jewelry store’s safe.  The four criminals–Mario (Robert Manuel), Jo (Carl Mohner), Cesar (Jules Dassin), and The Stephanois–case the store, planning out their heist and learning how they will defeat their obstacles, including a rather noisy alarm.  Then there is the lengthy process of the heist itself, then the aftermath.

The film has some colorful characters and the acting is collectively good, especially Jean Servais’s underplayed portrayal of the aging Stephanois, but the film lives on two strengths.  The first is the incredible thirty three minute scene of the heist, which is carried out in near silence without a word of dialogue or music.  The scene is an exhilarating tribute to silent era filmmaking as everything you need to know about the scene is visually displayed, and all the dialogue between the characters is conveyed in the actors’ eyes, faces, and body language.  The second strength of the film is its brilliant black and white cinematography which makes incredible use of the film’s wonderful Parisian locations.  Whether it’s back alleys, Paris streets, buildings, countryside, and whether day or night, the cinematography by Phillippe Agostini is as gorgeous as can be.  Dassin’s inventive direction invigorates the film and it stands as one of the greatest of the heist/crime film genre, and a classic of film noir.

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