Meeting The Criterion: Criterion Christmas #5 RIFIFI

Contributor; Chicago, Illinois
Meeting The Criterion: Criterion Christmas #5 RIFIFI
It's a Criterion Christmas! I'll be using Meeting The Criterion as a convenient way of reminding you of many of the Criterion Collection's great releases from the past year. Whether your Criterion Collection is organized by spine number, title or director, there's a good chance you'll see some releases that are bound to end up on your must remember to get list. 

Rififi (1955) got a Blu-ray upgrade and a stunning transfer here. Widely regarded as one of the greatest heist films ever made, it secured director Jules Dassin, also known for films like Night and The City (1950) and Thieves Highway (1949), a prominent place in film history. The story concerns a jewel thief recently released from prison and ready to go straight who instead finds himself plotting an elaborate robbery with three former colleagues. The centerpiece of the picture is a half hour segment during the actual heist. No dialogue but absolutely breathtaking suspense. What's less talked about is just how rich and human the rest of the film is. 

Rest assured this is the perfect place to start if you've never seen a film by Dassin before. It also separates Rififi from the pack of imitators that failed to understand that unless viewers care about the characters the heist won't matter much no matter how well it's shot. Dassin's take on noir was concerned with far more than shadows, often fully embodying the notion of people trying to go straight and give up their life of crime but who are too far along the road they've traveled to turn back. As I've encountered them, I've had an almost irrational desire to reach into the screen and save his characters, protecting them from the world that has finally said, "Enough." 

It's a feeling that Dassin himself knew keenly, having been blacklisted by Hollywood, which ironically opened the door to direct what would become his signature film. He doesn't lose the chance to allude to the injustice of his situation. One scene in which a thief kills another for betraying a fellow theif is rife with irony and it's impossible to watch Rififi with a studied eye without also acknowledging how funny the film can be at times. The title Rififi itself has often been described as untranslatable but is instead a slang for the French term for "combat zone," a state of being that permeates the entire narrative of Rififi the film. 

In the case of Rififi, the special features seem kind of light given its reputation. You get an interview done with Dassin in 2000, set design drawings and production stills. And an essay by critic J. Hoberman. It would have been fascinating to see a special feature devoted to heist films in general and the debt directors and writers have felt to Dassin. It's also curious not to see a commentary here. 

Rififi. Spine number 115 available in Dual Format Blu-ray DVD with all extras included on both. 
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Criterion CollectionJules DassinMeeting the CriterionRififiAuguste Le BretonRené WheelerJean ServaisCarl MöhnerRobert ManuelJanine DarceyCrimeThriller

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