Touchez Pas au Grisbi

Well, our power came back on at about 2 a.m. last night, but the internet is being wonky. It's so late and I'm sleepy so I'm not really up to running around trying to get it to work. I'll find a coffee shop or some such thing tomorrow and post this for you guys.

The storms were not so horrible by my house, but it was terrible by work! I drove right into it on Monday, and a lot of my coworkers are out of power. It's really sad because it's been pretty hot here, and I know how tough it can be after my stint without power for 4 days. I hope that everything will be up and running soon for everyone.

Today's movie is Touchez Pas au Grisbi,  directed by Jacques Becker in 1954. which Ebert says translates to “Don't Touch the Loot”. The movie is similar to other French crime films that I've seen – sort of a slow burn, but with so much style. It's not full of action, but it has really interesting characters who are totally original. I will admit I found parts of it to be a little slow (tired today), but overall, I was able to stay engaged with the film because I was so interested in the characters.

The film is about Max the Liar, an aging criminal who wants to do one last gig before he retires – steal 90 gold bars from Orly Airport. Max is wise and slick, but his sidekick Riton (aka Porcupine Head), not so much. The plan almost goes off without a hitch, until Riton is taken hostage as rival criminals try to learn the location of the gold bars. Max knows that Riton has always been a pain, but he can't leave his friend. I don't want to really ruin any more of the movie, so I'll stop there.

I really liked Max, he was so different from a lot of characters I've seen in crime movies. He was really original – which sounds stupid to write, but I don't have better words for it. I don't know, sometimes in crime movies I feel like I've seen the characters before, you know what I mean? They often do the same things – even some of the more quiet and detached ones eventually reveal, sometimes bluntly, their personal code that drives them. Max is nothing like this. After watching an entire slow film about him, and his many conversations and actions, I have no idea why he does what he does, or if any code of conduct is behind his actions. Whatever rules Max lives by are his own, and we don't get to find out about them. I really liked that, because it made him feel more mysterious and wise. He didn't seem to make as many missteps as some criminals, and that fact that you don't really know what drives him or controls him made me feel like he was smart enough to know that it wouldn't help him to share that information with his friends (or enemies). You might be able to exploit someone if you know a weakness or a rule they have they don't want to break, but Max seems smart enough to keep that to himself, and not expose any possible vulnerabilities.

Granted, Max does have a weakness, and it gets noticed – he cares too much for Riton. I guess I just was thinking of movies where the code that the main character lives by is so obvious, like in Leon: The Professional. I love that movie, so don't take this as a dig at it. But Leon, who is one of the more detached main characters in a crime movie, even has a point where he clearly lays out how he conducts his life. Max is more mysterious than that, and I liked that about him. He was just...Max, and he didn't remind me of any other characters I knew.

The style of this movie is very cool, as well, because it just oozes it. It's got a unique pace, as Truffaut once described, writing, "He invented his own tempo," Truffaut wrote after he died. "He loved fast cars and long meals; he shot two-hour films on subjects that really needed only 15 minutes. ... He was scrupulous and reflective and infinitely delicate. He loved to make detailed films about ordinary things..."(Great Movies II, 470-471). I think what Truffaut says is very important and interesting. It's not just another crime film, and it's not even just a movie about a unique criminal. I think it's really neat that this manages to somehow be a crime film but remain totally ordinary at the same time. 

Even though this movie can feel a little slow, it's worth it. I like that it's different and unique, and I like the slick world of French crime. I love that the director managed to weave in really interesting and important themes into what normally would just be a genre picture. It's just very well made, and very unique. It's worth watching if you ever have the time!


Touch of Evil