When the legend becomes fact, print the 11×14 glossy photo” could be the tagline for “Sans arme, hi haine, ni violence,” the freshman helming effort by comic vet Jean-Paul Rouve. Pic finds Rouve in full Austin Powers mode as he portrays French bank robber Albert Spaggiari, who rose to criminal stardom in the ’70s following a daring bank heist, and then quickly fell by the paparazzi’s wayside. Wide April 16 release should reasonably fill distrib Mars’ coffers in Gaul, followed by steady tube and DVD coin. But the now-obscure subject matter and zany tone won’t reap significant overseas booty.
French title, which translates as “Without guns, hate or violence,” refers to the message pasted to the walls of Societe Generale bank by Spaggiari after he snagged $40 million from its vaults in July ’76 — a crime then dubbed “the heist of the century.”
Spaggiari one-upped himself nine months later by jumping out of the third-story window of a Nice courthouse to escape police custody, plunging happily into 12 years of exile abroad.
Pic retells Spaggiari’s tale through a series of flashbacks as he relates events to Vincent Gourmand (Gilles Lellouche), a detective posing as a tabloid journalist who’s managed to track the crim to his South American hideaway (presumably Argentina), where he lives with looker g.f. Julia (Alice Taglioni).
The interviews show Spaggiari’s ingenuity in planning a fairly standard, well-orchestrated robbery (his team tunneled beneath the bank’s vaults for three months). But they also expose his unwieldy mythomania as he comes to terms with a fading legend and dwindling fortune, most of which was repossessed by Marseilles gangsters who aided the heist.
Rouve makes a solid directorial debut, capturing Spaggiari’s naivety through several clever comic vignettes that mock his childish appetite for fame and flashbulbs. In most cases, the joke is sadly on Spaggiari himself.
Final reels show the criminal and undercover cop becoming a bit too lovey-dovey, with Vincent delaying the arrest when he grows sympathetic toward the charming loser. Unfortunately, Rouve & Co. seem all too infatuated with their subject as well, and the helmer has so much fun playing the good/bad guy that he glosses over more troubling issues like Spaggiari’s known racism and links to international fascism.
A quick and incredulously conceived surprise ending turns the robber’s evident failures into a gushy, heartwarming finale that lacks the irony and distance of film’s early stages.
Tech level is above par, with widescreen lensing by Christophe Offenstein (“Tell No One”) revealing Spaggiari’s seaside retreat in subtle blues and greens. F/x by Alain Carsoux (“Amelie”) use slick visual cues to link flashbacks and present-day sequences, culminating in the outlandish robbery itself.