As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes (Dassin, 1955)

Posted by Hedwig on September 22, 2008

They observed it on filmspotting, and it’s absolutely true: nobody does “cool” like the french, maybe because they don’t even seem to try. Tony (dit: le Stéphanois) isn’t cool at all if you hear the description: he’s just spent 5 years in jail, he has a nasty cough, he beats his former girl with a belt (ouch), and during the magnificent, achingly tense heist at the center of this movie, his forehead is glistening with nervous sweat.

But cool? That he is, indubitably, maybe even because of his all-too-obvious humanity. He’s cool because even when he’s so stressed out, he never pauzes to wipe the beads of sweat off, and he never succumbs to the temptation to talk, make a joke, whatever: like in the heist scene in Le Cercle Rouge, not a word is spoken. Everyone knows exactly what they should do when, and while it takes longer than they had planned, they just keep on working.

Of course, seeing the heist being prepared and pulled off, that’s just half of the fun of heist movies. The other half is seeing how it will all go wrong in the end (those who consider that a spoiler probably haven’t seen any heist films from that period). Like in The Killing, and even, to a certain extent, Le Cercle Rouge, the weak point of the enterprise is indicated early on: “on dit que dans le monde, il n’y a pas un coffre qui puisse resister à César, ni aucune femme à qui César puisse resister”: in the whole world, there’s not a safe that can resist Cesar… nor a woman Cesar can resist”. There you have it: the one weak spot that will make everything unravel, and seeing it unravel – including another instance of Tony being very, very cool – is a pleasure to behold.

There really are many pleasures in this film, including the lovely musical number of which you can see an image here. It’s interesting, how an American in exile managed to capture the french atmosphere and mood so well, while at the same time staying within the confines of one of the prototypical American genres. I don’t mean the heist film in particular, but more generally the gangster movie , which would later inspire many leaders of the french new wave, which would, in turn, influence some seminal American films from the sixties.

Ok. Now: back to Infinite Jest, before my lounging-around-and-doing-nothing time is up!


One Response to “Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes (Dassin, 1955)”

  1. Kaj said

    Love Dassin, but I wasn’t terribly impressed by this effort. But that was mostly caused by tiresome circumstances.

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