Le Cercle Rouge
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville
Friday, March 26 - Sunday, March 28, 2010
“Melville’s 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 movie stars two of the top French stars of the time, Alain Delon and Yves Montand, as well as Gian Maria Volonte, looking younger here than in the spaghetti Westerns, and with hair. But it is not a star vehicle–or, wait, it is a star vehicle, but the stars ride in it instead of the movie riding on them. 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.
“As the film opens, we meet Corey (Delon) as he is released from prison. He has learned of a way to hold up one of the jewelry stores of Place Vendome. Then we meet Vogel (Volonte), who is a handcuffed prisoner on a train, but picks the locks of the cuffs, breaks a window, leaps from the moving train, and escapes from the veteran cop Mattei (Andre Bourvil).
“Fate brings Vogel and Corey together. On the run in the countryside, Vogel hides in the trunk of Corey’s car. Corey sees him do this, but we don’t know he does. He drives into a muddy field, gets out of his car, stands away from it, and tells the man in the trunk he can get out. The man does, holding a gun that Corey must have known he would find in the trunk. They regard each other, face to face in the muddy field. Vogel wants a smoke. Corey throws him a pack and a lighter.
“Notice how little they actually say before Corey says ‘Paris is your best chance’ and Vogel gets back in the trunk. And then notice the precision and economy of what happens next. Corey’s car is being tailed by gunmen for a mob boss he relieved of a lot of money. It was probably due him, but still, that is no way to treat a mob boss. Corey pulls over. The gunsels tell him to walk toward the woods. He does. Then we hear Vogel tell them to drop their guns and raise their hands. Vogel picks up each man’s gun with a handkerchief and uses it to shoot the other man–so the fingerprints will indicate they shot each other. Corey risked his life on the expectation that Vogel would know what to do and do it, and Corey was right.
“There is one cool, understated scene after another. Note the way the police commissioner talks to the nightclub owner after he knows that the owner’s son, picked up in an attempt to pressure the owner, has killed himself. Note what he says, and what he doesn’t say, and how he looks. And note, too, how Jansen, the Yves Montand character, comes into the plot, and think for a moment about why he doesn’t want his share of the loot.
“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.” – Roger EbertNR, 140 Minutes, French