Monday, 7 December 2009

All men are guilty. They're born innocent, but it doesn't last

No 298 - Le Cercle Rouge
Director - Jean-Pierre Melville

So, I've not posted for a little bit but I have a triple whammy of film posts to put up. Firstly a film I had tried to watch but had had to bail due to a chronic hangover. This was days, if not weeks, ago. I was then under the foolish belief that I wouldn't enjoy it.

I was wrong.

I don't enjoy HANGOVERS.

The film follows two criminals and begins by explaining how they meet up and subsequently join forces for a massive jewelry heist.
The first is Corey, fresh out of jail and hustled straight into a job by a corrupt cop. He is sort of the goody I guess. He is however incredibly cool. A very quiet and calculating figure. He seems meticulous with every movement he makes. And he has the most amazing late 60's moustache. Genuinely awesome.

I like Corey. He definitely comes out of his as the most impressive figure. He proves you can wear a mac without looking like a creepy paedophile. Something is never achieved in Highlander.

Corey is then joined by Vogel through a series of hi jinks and shenanigans (hiding in cars, shooting people etc). Now Vogel is set up to look pretty damned cool too. After all he manages to escape from a moving train. Where he has been handcuffed. In a guarded room. Using only a safety pin. However he seems to frantic, too nervous, too sweaty to be really cool.

He is not as cool as Corey. Man is one collected mother!

The two join forces with a third crack shot alcoholic ex cop in order to rob a jewelry store of 20 million francs worth of diamonds. 20 million francs may not sound like much, but remember this is 1970. A time where everybody smokes, constantly. A time when people can wear moustaches without it being ironic, or for charity. A time where back projection is ruddy awful - seriously all the clips of people allegedly driving are AWFUL. In this video, not only do you get a great example of bad fake driving, but you also see just how scary the Studio Canal title music is.

So we're introduced to our two main characters and then we have the police who are chasing Vogel. It all becomes clear (as is strongly hinted at in the scrolling text at the start) that these people will meet up. What I was surprised about was the way that it all happens.
We have a film which has clearly influenced Tarantino. The story's Mexican stand off and subsequent finale couldn't be more Tarantino and it works really well. It shows that all men are guilty and no one can avoid it.
Unlike Tarantino however, this film actively seems to avoid violence. The cool comes from the characters doing nothing. Cool, calm and collected. Any moments of violence are small gun scuffles lasting seconds and ending with a neat corpse killed by a single bullet.
They don't make violence cool. They show it as a means to an end. That makes this film very interesting and very brave.

However, nothing is as brave or as interesting as the heist. For some reason I found myself comparing the heist to Ocean's 11. It shows how cinema has changed. For at least half an hour we have next to no sound. Certainly no incidental music and no dialogue. We have no frantic edits or strange camera angles. We have no fast movements.
Just three masked men moving very slowly round carefully calculated routes in order to rob their jewels.

It is incredible. A strangely hypnotic cinematic moment. Considering so little happens, it is amazing how much it sucks you in.

Like most French cinema of that era it is effortlessly cool...

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