Saturday, January 3, 2015

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Writer:    Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast:       Alain Delon, Bourvil, Gian Maria Volonte
Language: French

After leaving prison, master thief Corey(Alain Delon) crosses pass with a notorious escapee (Volonte) and an alcoholic former Policeman who is also an expert marksman. The trio proceed to plot an elaborate heist even as the Commissioner of Police is making plans to catch the escapee.

The film starts with the following: 

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, drew a circle with a piece of red chalk and said: "When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the red circle."

It really didn't look like something Buddha would say and that turned out to be true since Melville made the whole thing up, like he did in his masterpiece-'Le Samourai'.  He just made that up to give some philosophical underpinning to the things that happen in the film even though it makes no fucking sense. The three men in question as per the quote are the Commissioner of Police, Corey and the escapee. They inadvertently cross path with each other in the beginning parts of the film and by a matter of chance do the same at its climax sequence. No elaborate back story is given to any of the main characters and there is no justifying reasons given to commit the heist. Still we root for the criminals and are saddened by the end, when it goes tits up during the fence portion of the heist. The moralizing tone of older films is something that I always have gripe with and in this film it kind of inverts it by making us feel saddened by their fate even though they are for whom we should ideally have no sympathy. This is achieved with minimal dialog between the criminals but one has to say their behavior towards each other is noble and mannerisms minimalistically stylish, which is in contrast with the Commissioner.

The film is very self-aware and at many points it has got characters thinking out loud for the audience (Corey and the marksman discussing about the bullet the latter used to disable the alarm system, for eg). Film's highlight would of course be the twenty five minutes heist scene without any words spoken. This will of course get compared to the French classic heist procedural from the 50s-'Rififi' which also featured a 32 minute heist sequence without dialog or music. Melville had conceived the idea to make a heist film in the 50s but delayed it due to the success of 'Asphalt Jungle' and 'Rififi'. In Rififi, it was the human mistrust that leads to their downfall which is often the case in film noir. That cliched aspect is also conspicuous by its absence in Melville's film. Michael Mann's 'Thief' is another one which I loved and in that film also it was during the 'Fence' portion of the heist that things go awry. 

To sum up, it is a slow burning heist procedural with a running time of close to 140 minutes. If you are a fan of heist films or procedurals or of Melville, it is a must watch. I didn't like very much Melville's 'Army of Shadows' when I watched it for the first time. Would like to check it out again since the slow burn aspect with minimal dialog of Melville films is something that I have got familiarized by now.

Rating: 4.5/5