Jansen is pursued by his demons; Vogel by an Interpol cop; Corey by the mob. The existential doom is so thick you could spread it on a baguette. As deliberate as it is, Le Cercle Rouge does not lack for suspense. The elegantly functional script pivots on a neat series of reversals and chance intersections. Despite the presence of Euro stars Delon and Montand, the tone is less preening than businesslikestately rituals performed by a cast of solitary men in trench coats. (Melville's notion of a gallant woman is the nightclub cigarette girl who silently presents Corey with a single rose, as the noose that is Le Cercle Rougebegins to tighten.)
The Melville world is so specific to the movies that it verges on abstraction, although his streamlined fatalism is enlivened by odd bits of business. The bloodhounds pursuing Vogel through the woods pass a sign reading, "Niepce invented photography in this village, 1822." Jansen suffers excruciatingly literal DTs in a hovel with striped wallpaper too hideous to hallucinate. The underworld dive run by dour, spaniel-eyed Santi (Paul Crauchet) features a floor show that might be the prototype for a Robert Palmer video12 chorines in matching hooker wigs impassively maneuvering around a tiny stage.
No less than the Dardennes, albeit to different effect, Melville is attuned to the perfectly studied gesture. Early in the movieand very early in the morningtaciturn Corey comes calling on the former associate for whom he took the rap. Ignoring the crime boss's fawning promises of assistance, the implacable ex-con has him open up the wall safe, helping himself to money and a gun, then leaving as his marker a worn photograph of the very woman we've just seen naked in the boss's bed. Without a backward glance, this epitome of cool leaves to play a solitary game of pool in an empty billiard parlor and await the inevitable appearance of the boss's minions.
Le Cercle Rouge
Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
January 10 through 23, at Film Forum
Written and directed by Fred Kelemen
January 9 and 11, at Anthology Film Archives
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!