KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (10)
August 10, 2017
One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite neo-noir movies from the Sixties (1964–1973).
LE CERCLE ROUGE | d. JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE | 1970
Le Cercle Rouge opens with a parable, supposedly from the Buddha, who claimed that “when men, even if they do not know it, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in a red circle.” Cut to a street at night with a stoplight: a red circle.
Those red circles show up as a visual and thematic motif throughout the movie. Three men, two of them career criminals and former prisoners and the other a disgraced policeman, are brought together to execute a jewelry heist. The film is nearly diagrammatical in tracking their movements; they converge and diverge like the red and white pool balls Alain Delon rolls across a pool table as he’s waiting.
The detached, processual camerawork makes you pay attention to how many odd tchotchkes there are in nearly every frame. There’s a bronze sculpture on every credenza and a framed print or three on every domestic wall. Delon makes an early-morning call to an old friend whom he knows has taken up with his former lover; she waits in the bedroom, posed naked next to the door, next to a garish floral sconce. Yet Melville’s film is not itself kitschy: It’s the epitome of restraint and coolness, matched by Delon’s sharp trenchcoat and cheekbones.
A roadside sign reads: DANS CE VILLAGE NICEPHORE NIEPSCE INVENTA LA PHOTOGRAPHIE EN 1822. The art of photography becomes a tourist landmark, yet Melville is no Walter Benjamin, lamenting the loss of the aura when all of these art objects may be reproduced and sold as kitsch. The reproductions in Le Cercle Rouge seem instead to comment on the portentous portrait and art object trope in noir films like Laura, Vertigo, Scarlet Street, and The Woman in the Window. In The Thin Man, a painting hides a secret safe; in Le Cercle Rouge, when Delon confronts his betrayer, he goes right to the seascape painting-wall-safe, leaves the lover’s photograph that he has been saving, takes the man’s money, and leaves coolly. The art here is not important, only instrumental.
The “red circle” quotation is Melville’s own invention. The quotation is a kind of kitsch itself — a reproduction of an ominous style. Yet the quotation itself is not inherently valuable. It is only as meaningful as how it diagrams the action of the movie. The men are set to steal jewels… but what they are fetishizing is the plan, the style of the heist. The precious objects are just a means to an end.
KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Series Introduction | Kio Stark on THE KILLERS | Alix Lambert on BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | Judith Zissman on ALPHAVILLE | Mark Kingwell on HARPER | Lynn Peril on BLOW-UP | Devin McKinney on SECONDS | Drew Daniel on BRANDED TO KILL | Luc Sante on POINT BLANK | Gordon Dahlquist on LE SAMOURAÏ | Alice Boone on LE CERCLE ROUGE | Brian Berger on COTTON COMES TO HARLEM | Adrienne Crewe on PERFORMANCE | David Levine on THE FRENCH CONNECTION | Dan Fox on GET CARTER | Melissa Gira Grant on KLUTE | Brandi Brown on SHAFT | Kaleb Horton on FAT CITY | Peter Doyle on THE GETAWAY | Sarah Weinman on HICKEY & BOGGS | Annie Nocenti on BADLANDS | Josh Glenn on CHARLEY VARRICK | Gary Groth on THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE | Lisa Jane Persky on THE LONG GOODBYE | Mimi Lipson on MEAN STREETS | Sherri Wasserman on SOYLENT GREEN.
MORE MOVIES at HILOBROW: KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: 25 neo-noirs of the Sixties (1964–1973) | James Parker’s BOURNE VARIATIONS series | Alix Lambert’s SÉRIE NOIRE series | Jacob Mikanowski’s SCREEN TIME series | Josh Glenn’s SHOCKING BLOCKING series | Joanne McNeil’s ALL MY STARS series | MORE: including dozens of HILO HERO items on movie directors and actors.
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