'Money': Film Review

Courtesy of Ocean Films
Back to black for the '13 Tzameti' director.

Writer-director Gela Balbuani ('13 Tzameti') returns to his favored noir territory in this French-language heist thriller starring Vincent Rottiers, George Babluani and Charlotte Van Bervesseles.

Gela Babluani, the Georgian-born director whose 2005 debut feature 13 Tzameti announced the arrival of a serious new talent, returns to the noir genre with Money, a heist-gone-wrong thriller that grips from the start and never lets go.

Money is the root of all evil in this story of three petty criminals who bite off more than they can chew when they burgle the home of a prominent politician and make off with a million-euro ($1.2 million) haul. Working this time in color, Babluani again displays his mastery of shades of darkness with a virtuosity that should appeal as much to art house audiences as to multiplex regulars.

The doomed trio are Danis (George Babluani, the director's brother), an immigrant of Serbian origin who is already known to the police and has to drum up a large sum of money or face reprisals from a local gang leader; his best friend Eric (Vincent Rottiers), who is scraping together a meager living as a dockworker; and Eric's sister Alex (newcomer Charlotte Van Bervesseles), who is also Danis' girlfriend.

They have set their sights on stealing the stash of Mercier (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a crooked government minister who has been complicit in a massive pharmaceutical scam. Their misfortune is to break into his house just as he in the process of hanging himself, anticipating exposure of his crimes by the media. Their fatal mistake is to cut him down when, as subsequent events unfold, it turns out that they would have done better to leave him at the end of his rope.

But, as in the best tragedies, their fate is sealed by a personal flaw: greed. After they have made a successful getaway, one of the trio decides to return to the house, having earlier spotted a wall safe and expecting to earn a little extra. The dizzying succession of twists and turns that follow leaves two of the three friends dead while the survivor, though escaping with the loot, finds that it has been won at too high a cost.

There are some plot complications involving a hitman (Benoit Magimel) and a blackmailer (Olivier Rabourdin), but Babluani knows what that master of literary noir Raymond Chandler knew, which is that plausibility matters less than style and conviction, and he has these in spades. Shooting mainly at night in a palette of dark colors (kudos to cinematographer Tariel Meliava) and returning constantly to the huis clos of the politician’s home, he succeeds in creating a somber world in which every action has unintended consequences to often deadly effect. The mood is leavened with flashes of grim humor: Asked why he tried to kill himself by hanging rather than by shooting, Mercier replies that he was “concerned about appearances." There is also a moment of sheer terror in which a small child is dangled out of the window of a fast-moving train.

Rapidly paced, shunning cheap psychology and above all imposing a sense that its protagonists’ fates are preordained, Money tips its hat to the noir classics of the 1940s and ‘50s. Babluani roots the action in the stark reality of grimy suburban estates on the fringes of France’s northernmost deep-water port of Le Havre, drawing strong performances from his cast, most notably from George Babluani but also from Anouk Grinberg and Feodor Atkine in supporting roles.

Production companies: Electrick Films, Les Films de la Strada, Jerico
Cast: Vincent Rottiers, George Babluani, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Charlotte van Bervesseles, Benoit Magimel, Anouk Grinberg, Feodor Atkine, Olivier Rabourdin
Director-screenwriter: Gela Babluani
Producers: Gela Babluani, Hubert Caillard, Dominique Boutonnat
Director of photography: Tariel Meliava
Costume designer: Mahemiti Deregnaucourt
Editor: Laurent Rouan
Composer: Jean-Michel Bernard

Sales: Kinology

In French
90 minutes