Rififi ★★★★½

It's pretty amazing to watch for the first time a movie like this that became the inspiration (and often the template) for countless genre flicks later and to STILL be riveted through the very last frame. Unbelievably well made especially on its tiny budget, its simple plot belies the complex emotional rawness of Jean Servais’s performance as the aging thief “Tony Le Stefanois.” Just out of prison, he’s so spiritually desolate that his willingness to undertake the punishingly laborious robbery at the heart of the film is a wondrous tension in itself. Why would someone put himself through this, especially as he confesses that he has no particular ambition for the bounty? Except for Tony’s faithful adherence to “the rules” of his trade–perhaps the only thing he believes in—the whole exercise would be an act of nihilism. This is even more true when you consider how heartlessly rendered the setting is. Paris is shot like a decrepit fortress, gray and grim. But also gorgeous; “Rififi” is also distinctive as maybe one of the most visually beautiful portraits of a city committed to film.

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