Carl Möhner as Jo le Suedois and Jean Servais as Tony le Stéphanois in Rififi [Du rififi chez les hommes] (dir. Jules Dassin, 1955).

Dominique Maurin as Tonio le Suedois and Jean Servais as Tony le Stéphanois.

Perlo Vita (Jules Dassin) as Cesar le Milanais.

Magali Noël as Viviane.

Jules Dassin, in exile from Hollywood during the McCarthy years, made Rififi in France on a shoestring budget. He couldn't understand the dense argot of Auguste Le Breton's novel, so he had to have someone read it to him in order to adapt it for the screen. Le Breton was so upset at how much his book had been changed (for one thing, the necrophilia had been removed) that he pulled a gun on Dassin during their first meeting. They nevertheless became good friends.

I haven't read the book, but it's difficult to imagine that it could be any more of a masterpiece than the film. Its bleakness is a different kind from that of American noir, playing out as it does against an almost light-hearted background of camaraderie and daily life. Perhaps the major difference is in the portrayal of sexuality, which is not just franker, but less contaminated with gynephobic dread, more related to actual pleasure. And yet Dassin's American background distinguishes it from most French films in the genre as well: he's more in touch with the gestural and rhythmic specificity of US crime tropes, and he manages to transmit this sensibility to his actors. Dassin himself, under the pseudonym Perlo Vita, plays the suave safecracker Cesar le Milanais. It's a beautifully understated performance that is about as humbly enacted as you can imagine a semi-central role played by the director being. The anti-Orson-Welles.

1 comment:

phaneronoemikon said...

I remember liking this one.