Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movie Musings: Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

***This blog post contains spoilers.***

Le Cercle Rouge is a French film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.  This film is about an elaborate heist in a well fortified jewelry shop.  I have to admit it's a very deliberately paced film which is a polite way of saying it's a little slow in the middle.  At least by our standards.  There's not a lot of dialogue either.  These things don't detract from the film.  It's beautifully put together and suspenseful but it's not anything near what we would consider an action movie so if you want something that moves fast and has a lot of shootouts, you need to look elsewhere.

I loved this film.  It gets better with subsequent viewings.  And it was put out by Criterion.  I might have to add this one to my collection.

Alain Delon is Corey, a criminal just released from prison, and a man with so much understated cool oozing out of his pores that he enhances every location he happens to be in no matter how dingy or mundane.  Ever wanted to know how to look like you have your shit together?  Ever wonder how you can look amazing while wearing a trench coat, smoking, standing in the mud, while some guy approaches you with a loaded revolver?  Corey's the answer.

Corey makes it all look good.  The car, the rain, the cigarette, the steering wheel.
The cinematography is a feast for the eyes, very interesting.  The colors are saturated but have a muted, cold palate for the most part.  Nothing looks too bright or washed out yet sometimes Corey's hair is so black that it looks superman blue as does his blue eyes, and the whites of the cigarettes and especially the whites of the men's shirts are almost blinding (in one scene, one of the men crosses a river in nothing but his blinding white underwear).

Corey waits for someone to answer the door.
You can clearly see what I mean by the colors being saturated but not overly bright.

The lighting was great too.  I couldn't find the train scenes with their beautiful play of shadow and light but I found the picture below which will give you an idea.
Corey and Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté) check out the state of Corey's apartment.  The flashlight, the cobwebs on the phone, the dust, and Vogel's distinctive profile against the window all combine to enhance that film noir look.

Speaking of Vogel, one of the things I really enjoyed about this movie were the relationships between the men.  There wasn't enough exploration of that, in my opinion.  Vogel had escaped from a train while in police custody.  He manages to hide in Corey's car trunk.  I love their meeting in the middle of a muddy field.
I love this shot.  You can just see a bit of warm light coming in from the right there.
There isn't much warmth in this film so I enjoyed this moment.
Vogel notes that Corey has several thousand francs in his jacket even though he doesn't take any of it.  After that Corey offers him cigarettes and a lighter.  As Vogel lights up, they just stare at each other for a few minutes.  They seem to realize they are kindred criminals and after Vogel saves Corey's life, they start working together.  Later, you will see that they have developed a high level of trust and a curious kind of thieves' devotion for each other.

...and Corey are having a moment, almost smiling at each other.
Notice how Corey's collar and tie is just slightly off and his trenchcoat collar is barely turned up in the back.  Also his trenchcoat is very soft unlike the more structured ones the other characters wear (notably the police).

If you haven't guessed by now, I just loved how elegant this film and these men were. Their clothes were beautiful. I also liked that there was very little emphasis on women in this story. Better for me to focus on those shirt collars, trench coats, ties, suits, and fedoras.

Yves Montand portrays Jansen, an alcoholic ex-cop and a brilliant marksman.  He has plenty of issues but still gets the job done.  He also looks great in all black, including gorgeous black overcoat, hat, and gloves (the effect is severe, he almost looks like a priest) while casing the jewelry shop, in a tux while posing as a musician during the job, and in a soft camel colored turtleneck and cardigan while practicing his shooting.

Corey and Jansen (Yves Montand), right, talk about the job.
Jansen is hyper elegant even while his hands are shaking from the DTs
(except when we first see him literally trying to deal with his demons). 

Heist.  In this famous 25-minute sequence no dialogue is spoken.
The heist sequence is justifiably famous.  The jewelry shop is ingeniously fortified and watching them work their way through all the obstacles is a real pleasure.

I know I haven't discussed the story much or Mattei, the police commissioner who is chasing them and who was accompanying Vogel during a prisoner transfer until he got away, some of Corey's other contacts, the nightclub owner, etc. but that's okay.  I'm sure you can find out more information on other blogs, or better yet just watch the movie.

Bourvil as Le Commissaire Mattei looks right at home in this film, as does his underlings.  
This film is fatalistic but I can't tell if the message is that the good guys prevail because they're good or because sometimes things just don't work out in your favor.  Regardless, one message I enjoyed is even if you die face down in the mud shot by the police while running away, you'll still look brilliant if you're wearing french cuffs and a beautiful overcoat.

Just say yes to awesome french cuffs!  Vogel unlocks his handcuffs on the train so he can escape.
Yeah, this is weird film review.  Just watch the damn thing and disregard my menswear fetishist ramblings.

P.S.  I think this film should be remade with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Corey and Tom Hardy as Vogel. Though Gordon-Levitt lacks Delon's unforgettable charismatic cool, he'll do just fine.  Both Gorden-Levitt and Hardy look great in suits and while smoking.  And they had such wonderful chemistry in Inception that I think they would do very well with the "thieves' devotion" part too (as long as the director expands on that even more and keeps the female presence in the film to a minimum).  I can dream a little, can't I?


Mock Iguana said...

Interesting review. The clothing observations are a nice touch.

I don't even remember Tom Hardy in Inception. Guess I'll have to watch it again. It could have been anybody under the mask in Dark Knight Rises, so I'm wondering what he looks like in other films.

Mock Turtle said...

"You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, Darling."

Some Inception footage with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy:

Mock Iguana said...

Wow, thanks. Forgot all about that. Seems like such a different person. Rumors are that TH will be starring in a new Mad Max movie.