TV Review: Storyville: Smash and Grab – the Story of the Pink Panthers, BBC4


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The Independent Culture

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.