Thursday, August 5, 2021

"The Gang" (1977)

Making its Blu-ray debut from the Cohen Film Collection (distributed by Kino Lorber), Jacques Deray's The Gang (Le Gang) is a strikingly unusual and idiosyncratic arthouse gangster film that should hold many surprises for fans of French crime dramas. While it has moments that resemble French master Jean-Pierre Melville, as well as American films like The Godfather, The Sting, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, stylistically the film is quite distinct from all of those. 

The Gang begins with the titular group of men gathering before a job, and then jumps to directly after the job, as they return with their leader, Robert "The Crazy" (Alain Delon), wounded. This leads into a voice-over from Robert's wife, Marinette (Nicole Calfari), who takes the story back to post-war Paris where they meet at a nightclub, where Robert holds the patrons at gunpoint after an American soldier insults one of the gang. From here, the story alternates between idyllic scenes of the gang celebrating baptisms, relaxing in the countryside, and glimpses of their crimes filmed with Melvillain sobriety. Robert becomes increasingly brazen as their success grows, and it's only a matter of time before his craziness gets him—and perhaps the gang—killed.

What's most interesting about The Gang are the expected paths it doesn't take. It's not an action movie, nor is it particularly suspenseful. Unlike Rififi, The Gang never lets us in on the plans, so we're not invested in the execution of the heists. Nor does the film probe the psychology of the characters: they're all pretty much blank slates. Also, inter-gang conflicts and melodrama are noticeably absent. And despite the voice over from Marinette, this isn't a love story. 

Instead, The Gang approaches its story from an abstract perspective. In this sense, one can feel the influence of Melville a little, though Deray doesn't share Melville's hardboiled sensibility. Instead, the film shifts tonally between verite-style robberies and getaways, pastoral interludes, and comedic moments scored to a jaunty piano melodies. I found such leaps to be refreshing and original, allowing the film go its own direction without following expected beats and genre conventions. I was also struck by how none of the characters–not even Robert—are presented as particularly ingenious or clever. There's something very spontaneous about their crimes, as though they were opportunities within the chaos of post-WWII France, still in disarray after the war. 

The Gang was co-written by legendary screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who collaborated with Luis Bunuel on such classics as Diary of a Chambermaid, Belle de Jour, The Milky Way, The Discreet Charm of the BourgeoisieThe Phantom of Liberty, and That Obscure Object of Desire. Previously, he had collaborated with The Gang's director Jaques Deray on the underrated crime film The Outside Man and on the 1930s gangster pic Borsalino (also starring Delon). 

Overall, The Gang is a welcome addition to the home video world, giving us access to the work of Jacques Deray, whose films have been not been widely available in the US. An attractive bonus feature, the Blu-ray includes another Deray-Delon film, Three Men To Kill, which I'll review separately.

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