international ring of jewel thieves was brought to you by the bureaucrats at
the EU. It is a complicated story, but
Havana Marking has her sources. Using
animation to protect their anonymity, a handful of former members explain the
inner workings of their loosely structured organization in Marking’s Smash & Grab: the Story of the Pink
opens this Wednesday in New York at Film Forum.
is careful not to unduly glamorize the high-end jewelry thieves that came to be
known as the Pink Panthers, in honor of the Blake Edwards franchise. Yes, they always avoided bloodshed on their
jobs, at least so far. Yet, they have
always been armed robbers, rushing into each score loaded for bear. They have never exactly been Robin Hoods
either, simply divvying up the proceeds from each job amongst themselves.
were professionals, who invested significant time and money to meticulously
plan each heist. Of course, they were
not just men. Every caper started with a
woman—a striking femme fatale, who would not look out of place trying on
expensive jewelry as she cased the joint.
Marking talks at length with one such scout. She goes by the name “Lela” for the purposes
of the film and like many Panthers, she hails from the former Yugoslavia.
shadowy group’s roots lie in the Balkans’ tragic war years. With Serb Socialist Party boss Slobodan
Milosevic stoking the fires of ethnic hatred, the EU responded by imposing a
punitive economic embargo on the entire Yugoslavia. Apparently, Brussels hoped the widespread
suffering would appeal to Milosevic’s heretofore unseen compassion, compelling him
to behave better. Instead, it gave rise
to an extensive black market, where future Pink Panthers learned the essentials
of illicit commerce.
the Panthers largely consist (or consisted) of Serbians and Montenegrins, like “Mike,”
Marking’s star witness. However, she
presents of conscientiously balanced portrait of the various Balkan
nationalities involved. In fact, Milena Miletic,
a Serbian journalist and veteran of the anti-Milosevic protests, is clearly one
of Marking’s most sympathetic and authoritative talking heads.
though Marking’s animated interviews with Mike and Lela look somewhat similar
to those roto-scoped Charles Schwab commercials, they still serve as an
effective counterpoint to the very real surveillance footage of the Panthers
getting down to business. Unlike most
true crime programming, there is nothing lurid or exploitative about Smash.
Nevertheless, Marking’s eye for ironic imagery adds a bit of dash to the
Leanly constructed and briskly paced, Marking’s film gives viewers a vivid sense of the scope
and tick-tock professionalism of the Panthers’ operations. Fascinating and
often darkly comic, Smash is a good documentary
for viewers who do not ordinarily enjoy documentaries. Recommended for popular audiences, Smash opens this Wednesday (7/31) at New
York’s Film Forum.
Labels: Balkans, Documentary, Havana Marking, Pink Panthers