Archive for Rififi

Noir is Hell

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 28, 2020 by dcairns
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Two French crime stories. I first wrote about THE SLEEPING CAR MURDERS, Costa-Gavras’ directorial debut, when it was only available to me as a pan-and-scan off-air recording from Scottish Television, dubbed into English. Now seeing it in widescreen and French and decent definition, its youthful vivacity combines nicely with its dark sensibility. But it’s far from nihilistic — Costa-Gavras clearly loves his naïve young couple, and his sniffle-afflicted detective (Yves Montand gets to be a handkerchief actor). It goes like a train. The novel by Sebastien Japrisot is also excellent but the solution to the mystery involves a fairly wild coincidence of murderers, if I recall it aright. CG changes the ending and it makes more sense. Probably his least political film for years but it does slip in some social comment, however maybe it’s highest achievement outside of the kinetic thriller dynamic is the miniature character portraits it offers en route.

RIFIFI is of course too famous to require comment on its spectacular cinematic merits, particularly the 45-minute (can this be right? It isn’t: see comments) silent heist. What makes it so tense and exhilarating IS the quietude. Director Jules Dassin’s European comeback after the blacklist, it shows his willingness to let the bad guy heroes BE bad guys, until the third act, when he gives anti-hero Jean Servais something noble to do, and includes a speech about how the real tough guys are those born to poverty who nevertheless go straight. He couldn’t help himself — Dassin needed some nobility to get behind.

Servais, visibly dying, is a magnificently raddled central figure (you can see him as a fresh-faced juvie lead in LES MISERABLES 20-something years earlier), shrivelled in his baggy suit. During the feverish final journey by convertible through Paris, he’s accompanied by a little boy with a toy cowboy pistol, draped in an adult coat to keep warm, who comes to seem like a crazy parody of him. Dassin, working with editor Roger Dwyre for the first time, creates a sequence of pure rhythm — from his very first short, Dassin has a heightened sense of visual and aural rhythm. If you start to notice it, even his supposed “worst” films become impressive.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Big Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on July 8, 2018 by dcairns

BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET / I SOLITI IGNOTI (Mario Monicelli) works as a parody of RIFIFI and as a yarn in its own right, a tricky task since it all has to fizzle out in a display of incompetence and bad luck, without seeming like a complete let-down.

Great films tend to come out of nations brimming with self-confidence, though there needs to be an ability to question things too. Post-war Italy would seem to have the right circumstances — they’d just won a war, though admittedly using the technique of changing sides midway which had worked so well for them in WWI. They had a new democracy. And they had the economic miracle. Things were going so well financially that neo-realism had to evolve into something else because its pessimism was unsustainable. A more mordant, cynical attitude, however, was possible.

The premise of BDOMS seems to be that if RIFIFI (more-or-less explicitly referenced in the dialogue) happened in Italy, the “scientific” heist would totally miscarry, the heisters defeated not by existential noir fatalism and external forces but by their own bungling. In RIFIFI there are rival gangs. IN BDOMS there’s the ousted former ringleader, but instead of ruining their schemes he’s removed from the narrative by a ridiculous/tragic accident. The whole plot is a series of dead ends like his, winding up in a baffled little newspaper story that gives the movie its original title (PERSONS UNKNOWN).

It’s very funny — the humour comes from an eye-rolling awareness of human folly, but there’s a lot of sympathy too — crime is a “left-handed form of human endeavour” as Huston put it, and there’s no moral judgement on the shady heroes. Crime seems like their best hope to get on in a difficult world, only they’re no damn good at it.

The intermittent intertitles add further ironic amusement.

In Stores Now

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2013 by dcairns

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News department: Cannes has announced its line-up, and to our disappointment, the film Paul Duane and I made, NATAN, is not featured. This despite our slipping the film to the top man with a recommendation from Costa-Gavras. Yes, Costa-frickin’-Gavras. Oh well.

We do have some thrilling news to impart about where the film is showing next, but we aren’t allowed to share it with you yet. It may seem at this point that things are moving slowly, but in fact leaps and bounds have been made…

Meanwhile ~

Every now and then, I like to give you a rundown of all the David Cairns products out there. So far, these consist of DVDs and Blu-rays to which I have contributed essays, but soon I hope to have my name on a line of fragrances, sailor suits, battleships and small boxes of earth from my native country. But until that day…

Available to buy now —

Black Sabbath [Blu-ray]

The Telephone is usually dismissed as the weakest of the three episodes, which is probably true, but it sets up a persistent motif of the other stories: offscreen sound as a source of fear. And aptly, for an Italian horror film, it’s practically a film about dubbing. The placement of one actor’s voice in another’s mouth foreshadows a theme developed through each panel of this cryptic triptych: the frightening mutability of identity, the fatal instability of reality.”

Incidentally, if you click through to Amazon using these links and buy a copy, I get a tiny percentage. And I like tiny percentages, almost as much as I like big percentages. They keep the wolf from the door, or the basilisk from the catflap as the case may be.

Other movies with essays by me —

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? [Masters of Cinema] (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray] [1957] (This might be my favourite of my own liner notes)

The Lost Weekend [Masters of Cinema] (Ltd Edition Blu-ray Steelbook) [1945] or The Lost Weekend [Masters of Cinema] (Blu-ray) [1945] (same movie, same essay, but the Ltd Edition Steelbook is only a few pence more expensive, so what the hey?)

“In fact, what suits Milland to the role is his slightly dissolute air, embodied in those hamster cheeks, that double chin; and his officer-class Britishness, which seems to project a weary distaste for whatever he’s acting in (a quality which would serve him well come The Thing with Two Heads, 1972).”

Rififi [Dual Format Edition DVD + Blu-Ray] [1955]

And from America —

Stagecoach (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

The 39 Steps (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

“The shaggy-dog story that gave Alfred Hitchcock his pet name for “the thing the spies are after” but that is of no real importance to the audience may have been told to him by Angus MacPhail, an English screenwriter with a very Scottish name. If so, it’s all too apt, since The 39 Steps(1935), the first Hitchcock film to really crank up the MacGuffin as plot motor, is full of Englishmen who sound like Scots and Scots who sound like Englishmen. It also features two traveling salesmen in a train compartment who seem about to break into the MacGuffin sketch at any instant but never quite do . . .”

And the latest, and most massive bit of film writing I’ve ever attempted —

pierre-etaix-pour-tous,M21213

“Who is Pierre Étaix and where has he been all your life?

This is the story of a filmmaker who was vanished, banished, skipped over. It’s as if one of those invisible cubicles mimes are always getting themselves shut in dropped from a blue sky and ensnared him. Lips moved noiselessly behind the impermeable seal, passers-by passed by, until finally nobody could see him any more than they could hear him. A hole opened up in film history—a small hole, Étaix would argue, just large enough to fit him into, but a hole nonetheless, weakening the overall structure and preventing a proper vision of the comedy lineage that gave rise to the satirical visual comedy of filmmakers as diverse as Woody Allen and Terry Gilliam, and that influenced such established contemporaries as Jerry Lewis and Blake Edwards.”

Pierre Etaix (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Pierre Etaix (Criterion Collection) The ordinary DVD set IS a fair bit cheaper than the Blu, but on the other hand, these are handsome movies…