Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Le Cercle Rouge

"Jean-Pierre Melville is to the crime film what Sergio Leone is to the western," Quentin Tarantino once said. On the basis of Le Cercle Rouge, which is currently being revived at Film Forum, it might be more appropriate to call him the Balzac of French cinema. Melville’s chief inspector (Paul Amiot), a pipe smoking figure right out of the pages of La Comedie Humaine repeats not once but twice "they're born innocent but it doesn't last," about humanity. It's film noir with an emphasis on the Adamic fall. But despite the pantheon of memorable criminals and sleuths, Melville is subversively filmic. His characters may travel around in flashy cars and act like American gangsters, but Melville is as transgressive when it comes to filmic disquisition as his criminals are of societal norms. Le Cercle Rouge begins with a scene in which a police inspector, Mattei (Andre Bourvil) is handcuffed to the prisoner Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte), who is being transporting by Voiture Wagon Lit. It's the first of several long wordless takes in which the camera dotes on a decor. One of the most humorous occurs on a muddy field where a criminal Corey (Alain Delon), who has been recently released from prison, discovers his soul mate, the now escaped con, Vogel, in the trunk of his car. Then there's the home of Jansen (Yves Montand) the alcoholic sharpshooter who lives out of his luggage,  Mattei's bachelor pad filled with cats, and the nightclub with dancing girls run by a snitch named Santi (Francois Perier). The ostensible action of the movie involves the robbery of an expensive jewelry store, Maubisson, on the Place Vendome and Melville again flouts all the rules of the Hollywood genre he's supposedly aping by lavishing every detail including how the burglars dress before their heist. You might think that these are scenes that would have ended up on the cutting room floor over at Warner Brothers or Fox but the fact is they might not even have been shot back in the day. The only Hollywood director who indulges the sense of place in this manner is Hitchcock though he unlike Melville put suspense first. Le Cercle Rouge, which begins with a parable from the Buddha, is ultimately about connectivity. Everything comes out in the wash and the highly visual nature of the work is the way in which the director lets his characters hang out to dry. 

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