We all want to retire. The government doesn’t want us to. They want us to work for ever. But we have to retire. We get old and we get jaded and worn out. And it doesn’t matter what work you do. Sometimes you just want a break to enjoy life. But sometimes you have to just keep keeping on.
Max is a gangster. A decent chap with morals and a way of living. He lives in a world that most of us are not part of. But this is a fully functioning society. Max has pulled off a big heist and is planning to live a quiet retirement from the proceeds, going to the restaurants and bars and talking to the dancers [Josy is played by Jeanne Moreau] and women that he knows. This was maybe an ideal role for Jean Gabin. He was fifty when he made this and hadn’t made a decent film for a while and he needed to start again.
True to Film Noir form, things don’t go quite as planned and Riton, his partner, tells one of the girls about the loot. Now other gangsters want the loot and they kidnap Riton. Without giving any spoilers, the film now focuses on Max and how he can retrieve the loot and his partner.
Now film noir, as you’ve probably noticed, has a general set of themes. It’s often dark and shadowy, to reflect the fact that this is a world that many of us don’t inhabit but are fascinated by, despite a lack of common understanding. The shadows can also be seen to represent the ambivalence of many characters and the hidden elements to their personas. Max maybe a criminal and a robber but he’s a good man with a strong sense of proper behaviour.
There are often flashbacks and convoluted storylines in which no one can be trusted and no one is who they at first seem but in these terms Grisbi [I’m sorry, I can’t be bothered with writing the whole film title], is relatively straightforward and linear. And there are no cops, hard-boiled or otherwise here. This is all going to be sorted out according to another set of rules, which are no better or worse than those of the mainstream.
But most crucially, the endings are often more bleak or less successful than many mainstream films. The hero doesn’t always win out. That doesn’t mean that they lose, they just don’t come out on top. This may reflect, particularly in French film noir, the influence of the existential philosophy common in French thinking during the post war years.
Grisbi is quite similar to Bob le Flambeur, another French film noir which was released shortly afterwards. The main characters are both controlled, charming and often diplomatic men who understand what is happening around them but are often having to react to the mistakes of those around them who they feel a strong sense of loyalty toward.
French film noir was strongly influenced by Hollywood film noir but it was made with a French attitude and this film is no different. It’s a straightforward gangster movie but with a big Gallic shrug. Life is absurd and you just do what you can to get by.