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aka - Du Rififi Chez les Hommes
France 1956
Directed by
Jules Dassin
115 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Rififi

Tony The Stéphanois (Jean Servais) has just been released from prison. Down on his luck, only his young admirer Jo the Swede (Carl Möhner) doesn't treat him like a has-been. Jo and his friend, Mario (Robert Manuel), are planning a smash-and-grab robbery of a jewelry store window, but when they invite Tony in on the scheme, he insists on going for the safe. The gang bring in a professional safe-cracker, a dapper womanizer named César, and the four men set about the heist of a lifetime.

Praise has deservedly been heaped on this re-released French gangster film, taken from Auguste le Breton's novel of the same name. Although clearly indebted to American models its distinctively French quality derives not just from the evocative imagery of wintery Parisian streets but for the empathetic treatment of the characters and their milieu, recalling the work of film-makers such as Jean Vigo and René Clement. Some might feel its almost too realistic, particularly in its treatment of the broken-down, ailing Tony.

Thus, whilst being a crime yarn it's also a study of the culture of crime, of the self-imposed need to be "hard" as Jo's wife explicitly states it (the title literally translates as 'Rough Games Amongst Men'). And of course there's a distinctively non- American component - a marvellous 30 minute long sequence in the middle of the film that is entirely without dialogue.

Dassin (who plays the part of César, acting under the name Perlo Vita) delivers a tightly structured, exciting story, at least in the first part. The post-heist section, however, has a comic-book quality as the script tries to cram too much action into too little time. Notwithstanding, Rififi is unquestionably a classic European gangster film that ranks with the best of its Americam counterparts (some may dispute whether it is a film noir proper, for though it has the born-to-lose moral there is no femme fatale) and buffs will be well-rewarded.

 

 

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