Jun 6, 2011

12th June 2011; Melville's RED CIRCLE

The Red Circle
A film by Jean-Pierre Melville
Year: 1970
Country: France
Run time: 140 minutes
12th June 2011; 5.45pm
Perks Mini Theater, PERKS school.

Gliding almost without speech down the dawn streets of a wet Paris winter, these men in trench coats and fedoras perform a ballet of crime, hoping to win and fearing to die. Some are cops and some are robbers. To smoke for them is as natural as breathing. They use guns, lies, clout, greed and nerve with the skill of a magician who no longer even thinks about the cards. They share a code of honor which is not about what side of the law they are on, but about how a man must behave to win the respect of those few others who understand the code.

Jean-Pierre Melville watches them with the eye of a concerned god, in his 1970 film "Le Cercle Rouge." His movie involves an escaped prisoner, a diamond heist, a police manhunt and mob vengeance, but it treats these elements as the magician treats his cards; the cards are insignificant, except as the medium through which he demonstrates his skills.

"The Red Circle," refers to a saying of the Buddha that men who are destined to meet will eventually meet, no matter what. Melville made up this saying, but no matter; his characters operate according to theories of behavior, so that a government minister believes all men, without exception, are bad. And a crooked nightclub owner refuses to be a police informer because it is simply not in his nature to inform.

The movie stars two of the top French stars of the time, Alain Delon and Yves Montand, as well as Gian Maria Volonte. All of the actors seem directed to be cool and dispassionate, to guard their feelings, to keep their words to themselves, to realize that among men of experience almost everything can go without saying. There is one cool, understated scene after another. The heist itself is performed with the exactness we expect of a movie heist. We are a little startled to realize it is not the point of the film. In most heist movies, the screenplay cannot think beyond the heist, is satisfied merely to deliver it. "Le Cercle Rouge" assumes that the crooks will be skillful at the heist, because they are good workmen. The movie is not about their jobs but about their natures.
Melville's own professionalism -- his understanding of action filmmaking as a kind of lyric poetry -- gives ''Le Cercle Rouge'' its cool, muted impact. It is a long, at times mind-twistingly intricate movie, but there is never a rushed shot, a perfunctory cut or a wasted movement. There are, instead, moments of breathtaking strangeness and blunt emotional force: cold-blooded shootings, creepy-crawly alcoholic hallucinations, spangly dancers and nighttime streets. These things could exist -- could look like this, or seem to mean anything -- only in movies. ''Le Cercle Rouge'' offers the kind of experience that makes you glad movies exist.
(Source: Internet / rogerebert.com )

Jean-Pierre Melville

Poet of the underworld

Film-maker Jean-Pierre Melville's life was a running battle with critics and fans alike. But the 'garlic gangster' won in the end.

Born in Paris, France, Melville, who was an Alsatian Jew, served in World War II and fought in Operation Dragoon. When he returned from the war he applied for a license to become an assistant director, but was refused. Without this support, he decided to direct his films by his own means.

He became an independent film-maker, owning his own studios, and became well known for his tragic, minimalist film noirs, such as Le Samouraï (1967) and Le Cercle rouge (1969), starring major, charismatic actors like Alain Delon (probably the definitive 'Melvillian' actor), Jean-Paul Belmondo and Lino Ventura. His directorial style was influenced by American cinema and fetishized accessories like weapons, clothes and especially hats.

His independence and his 'reporting' style of film-making (he was one of the first French directors to use real locations regularly) were a major influence on the French New Wave film movement, and he appears as a minor character in Jean-Luc Godard's seminal New Wave film Breathless. When Godard was having difficultly editing Breathless, it was Melville that suggested that he just cut directly to the best parts of a shot. Thus, the films famous and innovative use of jump cuts were made.

In 1973, Jean-Pierre Melville died. In a career spanning 25 years, the director had made just 13 full length films, but many of these are regarded as genuine triumphs of French cinema.

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