I’ve been thinking about Jean-Pierre Melville since watching ‘Le Cercle Rouge’ at the week-end. Is he that great? Is the film really a masterpiece? I only wonder because a lot of people believe both and I’m open to the idea but not fully convinced. Oh, I love the style of ‘Le Samourai’ but part of me thinks that’s its sole asset. My main memory of it is Delon being tailed...for what seemed like an age. I would have told JPM to edit that...though I don’t suppose he would have paid any attention.
‘Le Cercle Rouge’ is eminently watchable, not only because Delon is probably the handsomest man in the world (even with a ‘tache) but because it looks so good in those cool muted colour tones.
There are odd things, though, like the brilliantly surreal invasion of the marksman’s room by various crawling beasts, which I expected to have some significance later, but it didn’t. There’s no explanation of it, so I presumed he’d been a junky or something. He’s a mess who suddenly cleans himself up when hired for the robbery. I thought, at the crucial moment, he would start seeing iguana’s scampering across the floor of the shop. I mean, that’s what I would have written into the film, you know, to create some tension...will he hold his nerve? Or crack up and miss?
You see, I really could have made Melville’s films so much better than he did...apart from ‘Bob le Flambeur’, which is all-round great...and ‘Le Doulos’...which is hard to improve.
There’s also the mystery (to me) of the detective’s cats. Twice we’re shown him feeding them when he enters his apartment. Why? How is that scene necessary? How does it move the story along or illustrate the character? Film students: discuss.
I read somewhere that the film’s been butchered for release but I can’t believe it was cut to the point of rendering Corey’s relationship with the mystery woman (only seen hiding in the room of a man who owed him money) meaningless – what was all that about? There’s also a strange edit when Corey shoots the man in the poolroom. One shot, rapid and brief cut to dead man’s face. Was he trying to throw in something Godardian? A reference to nouvelle vague?
The best scene is the robbery, a homage to Dassin’s ‘Rififi’, presumably. No dialogue at all, or music; which makes it all the more realistic. As I said to LJ at the time, if this was a Hollywood production there would be some wah-wah guitar at some point...and possibly ‘tense’ orchestration (as they would describe it on the sleeves of library records)...Lalo, probably, which is no bad thing in any film, except this one.
As a bonus, Eric Demarsan’s soundtrack is a superb updating of classic Noir jazz. I bought it a few months back, so I had the unusual experience of knowing the music before the film.
So we all differ sometimes in our opinion of supposed classics. I’m sure there is someone out there who doesn’t rate ‘Citizen Kane’ that highly. Then again, that sounds ridiculous. If there’s a certainty in critical appraisal of cinema, it must be that Welles’ film is a masterpiece.
As for ‘Le Cercle Rouge’, I’m still not convinced that it’s the classic crime film many so-called ‘experts’ think it to be.