TV Review: Storyville: Smash and Grab – the Story of the Pink Panthers, BBC4
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Wednesday 23 October 2013
As their movie-referencing nickname suggests, an air of glamour surrounds the Serbia-based Pink Panthers. Since their daring jewellery heists began around the turn of the century, they've accumulated loot worth around $300m and are reckoned to be the most successful thieves in history. It's a worthy subject for a documentary, but Smash and Grab – the Story of the Pink Panthers had one obvious problem: internationally wanted criminals aren't usually keen to discuss their crimes on camera.
It was impressive, then, that the director, Havana Marking (Afghan Star), had persuaded a total of five gang members to be interviewed for her film, albeit with their words spoken by actors and their images recreated by Tony Comley's animation. The Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir proved that animation can be effective in documentary, but the results in this Storyville strand film were mixed. It was visually interesting – combined with a techno soundtrack and thrilling CCTV footage, this sometimes felt more like a game of Grand Theft Auto than a BBC4 documentary – but ultimately frustrating. Our goal was to discover what makes these master criminals tick, and animation, however necessary, felt like a stylistic flourish that further obscured the truth from the viewer.
Law-enforcement officers from Switzerland to Bahrain did appear on camera, but their interviews were hardly more satisfying. We learned a lot about how chaos in the former Yugoslavia gave rise to general criminality, a little about the methods involved, and almost nothing at all about the personalities.
In 20 years' time, when statutes of limitation have expired and sentences have been served, perhaps a documentary-maker will come along and tell the real-life Ocean's Eleven story that must be buried here somewhere. Until then, this was a mildly interesting history of the failure of European integration, instead.
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