Sunday, July 28, 2013

Havana Marking's SMASH AND GRAB offers those naughty Pink Panther jewel thieves

Just a couple of days ago, one of the Pink Panthers escaped from a European prison, which makes this week's documentary debut all that more timely. SMASH AND GRAB: THE STORY OF THE PINK PANTHERS, the new film from documentarian Havana Marking, fills in those of us who pay little attention to our own low-level criminal breed here in the USA, let alone those of Europe (while wishing that our government paid more attention to the high-level, Wall Street/banker type of bad boys) on the tale of this hierarchical and highly organized (but in such a manner that makes it very difficult to infiltrate) gang of jewel thieves.

Ms Marking, shown at right, who evidently got access to high-level gang members, has devised her film in such a way that their identities are kept secret by recording their interviews, using actors to portray them, and then disguising even these actors by using a kind of animation and posterization (below and further below) in which the actors' identities cannot be ascertained, let alone that of the real criminals. While this works well as a disguise, it also distances us twice over from the real thing.

Consequently what sticks most post-viewing is what we hear and learn from a certain investigative reporter who herself has done a lot of leg work and interviewing to discover information about the gang members, who hail -- surprise! -- from a place known as the former Yugoslavia. But here, at least, were not talking genocide by the Serbs, against which jewel robbery seems like the proverbial walk in the park.

The most interesting information the movie has to offer, in fact, is how -- in the era following Tito's "liberal Communism," during which various ethnic groups and religions were held together peaceably via this more-or-less benevolent dictatorship -- civil war came to the territory, along with genocide and ethnic cleansing, and the resulting shards of hegemony became to a large extent criminal states. In the choicest bit of dropped info, we learn how these states deal with own criminals: They are sent abroad to rob in other countries and then bring the loot back home.

The Pink Panthers are a part (certainly now the most famous) of this criminal set that appear -- if the movie is to be believed -- to use the threat of violence rather than the real thing against the people they rob, thus cowing their victims (in Western Europe, Asia and the Mid-East but never in their own countries) into immediate surrender and help.

All these animated interviews are woven into footage of the actual robberies obtained via security tapes, along with interviews with that aforementioned journalist and some law enforcement officers, accompanied by a musical score that ranges from jaunty and upbeat to the sort of loud, generic stuff of a B-level suspense movie. The result is a relatively interesting hodge-podge that gives you some kind of introduction into this netherworld of well-concealed and perhaps state-inspired criminality.

If the movie is playing fair with us, these guys and occasional gals are robbing solely from the world's sleazy "one per cent" and since they are not actually killing the underlings who labor for that one per cent, I guess we can consider them the pseudo-Robin Hoods of the former Yugoslavia, who, according to the two interviews we get here, only want to make enough money to retire and live in a pleasant style with their loving families. Gosh -- ain't it the American Dream all over again.

Smash and Grab, from Music Box Films' relatively new Doppelganger Releasing division and running just 90 minutes, opens this Wednesday, July 31, at Manhattan's Film Forum. Elsewhere? Probably, but nothing has been posted on the distributor's sites just yet.  But since it's from Music Box, a DVD and/or Blu-ray should also be in the offing, eventually.

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