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Monday, 14 October 2013

La Grande Illusion - Rififi

My local cinema, Picturehouse York, has been showing a season of World Cinema Matinées. So far, I have seen two magnificent French films. I have seen them before but not on a cinema screen, only television, so these were opportunities I could not miss.

Yesterday I saw "Rififi", Jules Dassin's film of 1955.

The story revolves around a burglary at a high class and very expensive jewellery store, Mappin & Webb's branch in Paris. Four career criminals are played by Jean Servais as the leader Le Stephanois, Carl Mohner (Jo the Swede), Robert Manuel (Ferrati) and Jules Dassin himself (Cesar le Milanese, the safe cracker). Much of the film was shot on the streets of Paris so it has a very authentic feel, very atmospheric. The robbery itself is amazing, there is no dialogue, just the sound of the four of them working at breaking into the safe. No flics in this film, just baddies and their code.

Two weeks ago I saw "La Grande Illusion", Jean Renior's film of 1938.

l to r, Jean Gabin, Gaston Modot, Pierre Fresnay, Julien Carette, Jean Dasté, Marcel Dalio

Erich von Stroheim

Whilst flying a recon mission in 1915, Gabin and Fresnay are shot down by Stroheim and are captured. Later they arrive at Colditz-like POW camp run by an injured Von Stroheim.

This film is one of my top five. It is one of the finest anti-war films ever made. I know I have said it before, but I shall say it again, Jean Gabin is my hero, but here Fresnay is magnificent as an upper-crust staff officer, de Bouldieu and really steals the first half. In the second half there are wonderful scenes between Gabin and Dalio. An awe-inspiring film.


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