Le Cercle Rouge
posted to www.marxmail.org on February 11, 2003
Just at the time film noir was going into decline in the
Jean-Pierre Melville was among the most noteworthy. Shown in
its uncut version at the Film Forum in
Melville found this sort of plot irresistible. In 1950, shortly after he began work on "Bob, Le Flambeur", his first film about a jewelry heist, "The Asphalt Jungle" hit the theaters. This convinced him to reframe his own movie as a comedy of manners in order to avoid comparisons with Huston's.
As is the case with most film noirs, the world of "Le Cercle Rouge" is utterly amoral. In the opening scene, Corey (Alain Delon), who is about to be released from prison, is recruited for a robbery by a prison guard whose relative has worked as a guard for the jewelry shop being targeted and knows how to get past elaborate security mechanisms. After Corey agrees to do the job, he must recruit a sharpshooter who can disable with a well-placed bullet the central lock that controls infrared cameras protecting the jewels. That person is Jansen (Yves Montand), a former cop.
Jansen has been recommended by Vogel (Gian
Maria Volonté), an escaped prisoner who crosses paths fatefully with Corey en route to
Meanwhile, Vogel is being pursued by Inspector Mattei (André Bourvil) as the three criminals map out the burglary. In a scene that drives home the film's amorality, Mattei is told by his superior that is that all men must be presumed guilty. Including cops, asks Mattei? The reply: yes.
"Le Cercle Rouge" takes place in wintertime. Through barren, desolate and windswept wheat fields, late-night empty Parisian streets and garish nightclubs, the cops and their prey cross paths repeatedly. With a cerebral jazz-tinged score by Éric Demarsan to accompany the echt noir images, an icy mood is established from the very first scene which takes place in the sleeping compartment of a train. Mattei and Vogel, handcuffed together, along with the other characters are joined in the "red circle" of fate supposedly described by the Buddha in the beginning of the film, but actually--according to the Village Voice's J. Hoberman--made up by Melville himself who was apparently given to faux Buddhist sayings.
Melville was born Jean-Pierre Grumbach
in 1917 into a Jewish family living in
His affinity for
"There is a comparable ambivalence in language to which
translation gives a kind of ironic distance. These fictionalized characters who
("Le Cercle Rouge" is showing until February 18th. For schedule and other information about the film, go to: http://www.filmforum.com/cercle.html)