02/12/2016

Rififi - Crime With Heart

Quick Thoughts: Rififi

A jewel thief fresh out of prison makes plans for the biggest heist of his life.


Shit, this is a great film. This is bar far, by far, the best crime/drama/noir film ever. In essence, what we have with Rififi is a heist film like The Italian Job meeting a noir like Sweet Smell Of Success meeting an emotional drama like Bicycle Thieves. What makes this film so great is its Bicycle Thieves elements. In other words, it's the characters and their predicament working with the plot to produce a monolithic emotional commentary on crime and poverty. This is such a unique film as I've never had such sympathy for protagonists whilst recognising that they're bad guys - all before accepting their fate. Without spoilers, the character arcs in this film are incredibly expressive. A defining moment in the film picks up on Jo, a father and 'tough guy', growing up poor, like many millions of people, but becoming a criminal. His wife says to him that maybe everyone else who grew up poor and didn't become criminals are the real tough guys. And such is the essence of this film's plot and noir aspects - a sense of inevitability and doom put into play by hubris. However, whilst noirs are often bland in their nihilistic commentary, Rififi builds upon this base with astounding character work. Said character work in juxtaposition with the dooming plot says so much about trying to do the right thing, but that not be enough. However, I daren't explain the climax or delve into this idea too much. The film speaks for itself - and such is its brilliance. If you haven't seen it, watch it. To further sell the film though, I have to pick up on how it distinguishes itself from many other crime/dramas or noirs. This film is a great lesson in creating interesting stories about crime that aren't destroyed dogmatic approaches to morality and ethic. Each character in this film is treated with understanding and sympathy, not just looked at as a caricature of evil or goodness. They are projected as people - little more. In this, we completely understand their perception, but maintain perspective on how they are wrong both in how they act and often think. The beauty in this is that the final commentary isn't a banal statement. More importantly, the pure greatness of the film is in fact that this it's a thoroughly immersive cinematic experience. If you look to many noirs, you see cool and iconic figures, the Bogarts, Bacalls, Welles and Stanwycks, but very rarely great characters. Moving into the realm of great character work with crime at hand you find yourself moving into a romance or heavy drama - films like Casablanca or Bicycle Thieves. We see this paradigm to be as noirs and classic crime films are, in large part, stylistic to the point of detriment. Within these films character is often conveyed through cinematography and tone instead of words on paper, strong traits and arcs that thematically resonate with the audience. This is a subjective standpoint as people see characters differently, but experiencing Rififi is what draws the line in the sand for me. This is clearly a noir or crime/drama in a different class to similar classical 40s/50s pictures.

On a last note, I ask you: do you agree? What is your favourite noir and how does it compare with Rififi?





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