Touchez pas au grisbi
(Hands Off the Loot)

Directed by Jacques Becker.
With Jean Gabin, Jeanne Moreau, Lino Ventura.
France, 1954, DCP, black & white, 94 min.
French with English subtitles.
DCP source: Rialto Pictures

Becker’s smart, subtle film unfolds with the same undetectable skill and ease with which Jean Gabin’s gangster Max conducts his ambiguously unsavory business. At this point, Becker was also—unknowingly—nearing the end of his career, and the wise filmmaker, like Max, sees that everything is well-planned and well-executed: no flash or flamboyance unless absolutely necessary. Though just as riveting and romantic as any action-packed noir, Touchez pas au grisbi tenderly lingers on the more mundane moments in the lives of aging gangsters. And even the normalcy may not be what it appears; it could be a grounding ritual or a protective front. For Max, these might be indistinguishable. Whether taking out his reading glasses, putting on his pajamas, romancing a beautiful woman or killing a duplicitous partner in crime, Max is calm, charming and indecipherable. He has settled into a comfortable life, hopefully secured by a last big heist committed before the film begins, yet his loyalty to his best friend could compromise this retirement. With its melancholic air, the complex bouquet of Becker’s modern masterpiece slyly catches its audience off-guard, less with the explosive violence of an ambush than with its quiet emotion.

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