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Melville, (Jean-Pierre) 
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Post Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
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Few protagonists are as cool, calm and collected as Corey (Alain Delon); never blinking, speaking only the words he needs and never more, Corey is a man that has calculated everything down to the essentials. He's experty groomed, boyishly handsome and a master of quick action. Unfortunately for him, Corey is not nearly as smart as he'd like us to think he is. Corey may be, in fact, stupider than he could possibly know.

Le Cercle Rouge, the second-to-last movie Melville made before his death in 1973, is a tour de force of awesome set pieces, on after the next. The story, about a team of thieves looking to steal jewelry and fence it until the next great opportunity arrives, plays second-fiddle to the tone.

Consider the centerpiece of the film: Corey, leading a wanted murderer (Gian Maria Volonte) and an alcoholic gunman (Yves Montand), pulls off a robbery of a jewelry story during which not one line of dialogue is exchanged by the characters. This scene, lasting about 25 minutes, is filled with unbearable tension but... why? For one, we want them to get away with the crime. And why should that be? Out of the three men, only Jansen (Montand) is human. We see him suffer (in an excellent scene that was recently called up by Bad Lieutenant: POCNO, Montand hallucinates large lizards crawling everywhere he looks) and that lends him the smidgeon of humanity required to latch on to.

But what about Corey? He's clearly affected: this is a guy that has designed himself from the top down in order to look like a professional. He's so staged, in fact, that even when he's alone he's putting on an act: eyes shifting this way and that as he eats a bowl of soup. I think it's that he becomes a bit pathetic; we'd just like to see him break into a smile, maybe only even a part of one.

Melville's masterpiece is a thriller first and last which is basically fair game for the filmmaker as he traded in tales from the underworld. His lead characters were usually flawed bad guys that didn't really get to turn it around (not that they wanted to, anyway). With Corey, Melville wrote a complex character out of a walking coma of a man: he shuts it all inside, never really reacting (or, frequently, acting in his own worst interests) and never bothering to show an ounce of anything... anything.

There's a police official (Andre Bourvil, the film's lonely moral center) but... well, you'll just have to see.

There's surprise after surprise in this movie. Sometimes things are surprising because nobody would be so naive to think it would be so damned easy and sometimes things are surprising because things worked out correctly, still leaving a bitter taste. It's never clear who you're supposed to root for: in the scenes with police you want them to take proper action and catch the crooks but in the scenes with the crooks you want them to run a hell of a lot faster so the police can't catch up. The movie ends correctly but you're left thinking the same thing as the police captain: so what good was that and who won exactly?

On my list of top films from the 70s (currently hypothetical), Le Cercle Rouge would place around the #2 spot. It's an efficient thriller, a human comedy, a character-centered drama, a neo-noir crime film, a story about redemption, one about loss, an existential parable, a violent revenge story, a drama about consequences and a borderline farce. How the hell did Melville pull it off? He knew that the only person that needed to understand just what the hell was going on was the viewer -- his characters are too wrapped up in themselves to even notice they're in a movie. That ends up being one of the movie's greatest ironies.


Last edited by majoraphasia on Thu Apr 22, 2010 5:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Apr 22, 2010 12:01 pm
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
Unfortunately, I've only seen Le Samourai, so I don't really feel qualified to comment on totality of the director. Should you be so inclined, feel free to read creator of this thread's thoughts on that film, along with my own here. Be warned, while the comments don't give away too much about the film, it would probably still be considered a spoiler. That nancy ed couldn't take it, at least.

Other than that, I'll be checking out more from the more very shortly. The one movie I've seen from him was terrific.

This post is pretty much pointless. I guess we'll have to wait on that megapost.

EDIT: More from the more, eh, Pete? No, Othello didn't make the movies talked about in this thread.


Thu Apr 22, 2010 4:14 pm
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
I wouldn't want to do a survey of the work - this thread would disappear in no time flat. So that first post? It'll be a look at Le Cercle Rouge. It looks like some people have seen it and a few more will be watching soon. We'll see where the thread goes from there.


Thu Apr 22, 2010 4:50 pm
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
And so, if you don't want to scroll, there's this: viewtopic.php?p=50789#p50789

Ha! I'm not 100% happy with it but it should do the trick. Hopefully others will come in and spill the beans over what they thought of the film.


Thu Apr 22, 2010 5:37 pm
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
I've only seen three films by Melville:

- Les Doulos: Great black & white cinematography and a good French noir, but the plot left me confused.
- Le Samourai: Excellent movie with a stoic Alain Delon who oozes cool. Unfortunately, it seems that here is no region 2 DVD (at least none with German subtitles or dubbing). Fun fact: The German translation of the title is "Der eiskalte Engel" = "The ice-cold angel".
- Le cercle rouge: Very good heist movie and I like it very much, but it is formulaic and reminded me of Rififi in style and tone. Particularly the central heist sequence is similar in that it is nearly silent. Interestingly, John Woo is on record as loving this film and there are similarities in how Woo has depicted characters in his "heroic bloodshed" movies of the late 80ies/early 90ies.
The French are really good at making heist movies in general. It's nowhere near as good as Le cercle rouge, but if anyone is interested in French heist movies, it might be worth checking out Le clan des Siciliens/ The Sicilian Clan by Henri Verneuil starring Alain Delon and Jean Gabin and with a soundtrack by Morricone.


Fri Apr 23, 2010 8:52 am
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
Interestingly (or not), I went ahead and blind bought Rififi and I plan on watching Le Cercle Rouge as soon as I get the chance. I'll keep Unke's comment in mind since both movies should be relatively fresh in my mind.

John Woo had similar feelings about Le Samourai. I read a quote from him calling the movie as close to perfect as one could be. Woo's Wikipedia page says its one of his 3 favorite films. He seems to be a huge Melville fan.

Unke, which of the 3 Melville's you've seen do you consider the best overall? It sounds like you're partial to Le Samourai.

I wanted to not read major's comments on the movie, but I couldn't resist. Ah well. I'm better off for it. It'll give me a little context while watching the movie, even if it stripped my initial viewing of its "purity".


Fri Apr 23, 2010 10:04 am
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
PeachyPete wrote:
Interestingly (or not), I went ahead and blind bought Rififi and I plan on watching Le Cercle Rouge as soon as I get the chance. I'll keep Unke's comment in mind since both movies should be relatively fresh in my mind.

John Woo had similar feelings about Le Samourai. I read a quote from him calling the movie as close to perfect as one could be. Woo's Wikipedia page says its one of his 3 favorite films. He seems to be a huge Melville fan.

Unke, which of the 3 Melville's you've seen do you consider the best overall? It sounds like you're partial to Le Samourai.

I wanted to not read major's comments on the movie, but I couldn't resist. Ah well. I'm better off for it. It'll give me a little context while watching the movie, even if it stripped my initial viewing of its "purity".


I liked Le Samourai the best, closely followed by Le cercle rouge. I admired Les Doulos more for its black and white visuals than really liking it, but I'd still recommend it to anybody who likes films noirs. If it's any help, I would rate Le Samourai as a 9/10, Le cercle rouge as a 8/10 and Les Doulos as a 6/10 on my completely subjective and utterly useless scale.

I'd be interested to know whether you also thought that Le cercle rouge and Rifiifi are somewhat similar in tone (beyond adhering to the heist movie formula, which Rififi helped to establish, I guess). Both are significantly different, of course, and you're in for a treat.


Fri Apr 23, 2010 10:52 am
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Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
I like Le Doulos more than Le Cercle Rouge & Le Samourai. The other 2 take them themselves too seriously imo(I like my film noir straight, & preferrably without existentialism)
Also like Rififi a lot. Its a hell of a lot faster paced than Le Cercle Rouge.


Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:54 pm
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Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
All men are guilty. They're born innocent, but it doesn't last.

Le Cercle Rouge.

-What a slick, suave and utterly cool movie. As major said...somewhere...this movie is all about attitude and style.
-The camera work is just as slick and fluid as the character. Clean, always moving, hardly a static shot (that I can remember). Really...the camera work is awesome.
-Thrilling despite minimalist dialogue and minimalist score.
-The highlight is, of course, the heist. I want to mention other scenes that really stand out to me, but I'll wait until more of you see this movie. And you should.

Things I'm Curious About

-The red circle...


TBC...


Fri Apr 23, 2010 2:54 pm
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
Good responses! As in: phew, I figured this thread would be effectively stillborn.

The comparison of Le Cercle Rouge to Rififi is a good one but they are very different films. Rififi is warmer and feels a bit more modern while Le Cercle Rouge is more about style and general attitude than story. I prefer the Melville, personally, but they're excellent companion pieces. That being said, Le Cercle Rouge has the nice function of confusing the audience with its moral ambiguity while Rififi is more strongly character-centered. They're both 10/10 to me but they aren't interchangeable.

Le Doulos (which I need to rewatch) is a straighter noir escapade and represents a nice meeting ground between arty New Wave and 40s noir. It's generally considered weaker Melville but I still think it's great. The Belmundo performance at the center is terrific. More on it later.

Nobody has seen Army of Shadows? Melville with a twist. More on that later, too.


Fri Apr 23, 2010 3:55 pm
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
majoraphasia wrote:
Nobody has seen Army of Shadows? Melville with a twist. More on that later, too.


I have. It's the only Melville I've seen though, so I can't really comment on said twist. It's good stuff though. Not great, but very good.


Fri Apr 23, 2010 4:35 pm
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
Zeppelin wrote:
majoraphasia wrote:
Nobody has seen Army of Shadows? Melville with a twist. More on that later, too.


I have. It's the only Melville I've seen though, so I can't really comment on said twist. It's good stuff though. Not great, but very good.


Total bullshit insofar as an opinion can be bullshit. Which, of course, it really can't be. So it's not total bullshit.

But I'll tell you this, Zeppo: when Army of Shadows was screened in 2006 it ended up being the best movie I saw that year by gigantic leaps and bounds. What does that mean? Nothing. Just my opinion. Which may, in fact, be bullshit. Insofar as an opinion can be bullshit. Which, of course, it really can't be. So it's not total bullshit. Total bullshit insofar as an opinion can be bullshit. Which, of course, it really can't be. So it's not total bullshit. Total bullshit insofar as an opinion can be bullshit. Which, of course, it really can't be. So it's not total bullshit. Total bullshit insofar as an opinion can be bullshit. Which, of course, it really can't be. So it's not total bullshit.

Sorry. Went into a loop.


Sat Apr 24, 2010 6:46 pm
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
Anyone seen Bob le flambeur? I haven't, but Wikipedia's page on Rififi has a quote from Godard that basically says Rififi can't hold a candle to the Melville film, even though Dassin's film paved the way for Bob. Apparently Godard didn't really like Rififi. What a fucker. Anyway, I'm curious to hear some thoughts about old Bob and his movie if anyone has any.


Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:50 am
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
PeachyPete wrote:
Anyone seen Bob le flambeur? I haven't, but Wikipedia's page on Rififi has a quote from Godard that basically says Rififi can't hold a candle to the Melville film, even though Dassin's film paved the way for Bob. Apparently Godard didn't really like Rififi. What a fucker. Anyway, I'm curious to hear some thoughts about old Bob and his movie if anyone has any.

Godard doesn't really like anything.


Wed Apr 28, 2010 2:09 pm
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
Pedro wrote:
Godard doesn't really like anything.


Except Godard. He LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVES Godard.


Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:41 pm
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Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
Bob the Gambler just isn't very good. If anyone tells you it is, they're wrong. If you think it is, you're wrong. Now mind you it isn't a bad film, but the twenty years between 1950 and 1970 contained a lot of really really good heist movies, and Bob the Gambler can't hold a candle to the likes of Rififi. Still if you're a Melville fan you can watch it and make your own decision, but I would recommend a lot of films before it.

Army of Shadows, on the other hand, is a great film. If anyone tells you it isn't, they're wrong. If you think it isn't, you're wrong. Every scene in it is great. The direction is masterful. The acting is beautifully understated. The conception is brilliant. There are scenes that linger in your mind for years. The 140 minute running time flies by. Man what a great film. I hadn't seen a four star film in a while when I sat down to watch this one, and I had high hopes for it. Every 10 minutes or so while watching it I said to myself "Man...this is amazing." I kept waiting for it to falter, but it never did. So if you haven't seen it...do.

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Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:55 pm
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Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
Thanks Kunz. I plan on checking out Army of Shadows pretty soon. I'm excited for that and Le Cercle Rouge (which will likely be next). Le Samourai has me hooked on Melville. I've watched it another time and a half, and it keeps getting better. I'm going to try to see as many of his movies as I can.

As for Bob and his gambling ways, the film is pretty highly regarded (97 or 98% on RT and in the 500s on the 1000 Greatest list). That said, it might mean nothing. That list doesn't even have Rififi on it for God's sake! Seriously, there are one thousand better movies than Rififi? That's just untrue. Ok, tangent over. Bob peaked my interest, but it isn't on my absolutely have to see right now list. I'll get around to it when the opportunity presents itself, whenever that may be.


Thu Apr 29, 2010 9:11 am
Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
PeachyPete wrote:
As for Bob and his gambling ways, the film is pretty highly regarded (97 or 98% on RT and in the 500s on the 1000 Greatest list). That said, it might mean nothing. That list doesn't even have Rififi on it for God's sake! Seriously, there are one thousand better movies than Rififi? That's just untrue. Ok, tangent over. Bob peaked my interest, but it isn't on my absolutely have to see right now list. I'll get around to it when the opportunity presents itself, whenever that may be.


That list.

*grumbles*

There are tons of omissions and questionable placements after the 200 (or so) mark due to their generous weighting of certain polls. While I don't mind 'Crash' making the list, surely 'Rififi' is more honored.

It's a guide, though, so we can always fill in the holes.


Thu Apr 29, 2010 11:47 am
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Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
anyone see The Good Thief? its a remake of Bob le flambeur.


Thu Apr 29, 2010 12:45 pm
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Post Re: Melville, (Jean-Pierre)
majoraphasia wrote:
There's surprise after surprise in this movie. Sometimes things are surprising because nobody would be so naive to think it would be so damned easy and sometimes things are surprising because things worked out correctly, still leaving a bitter taste. It's never clear who you're supposed to root for: in the scenes with police you want them to take proper action and catch the crooks but in the scenes with the crooks you want them to run a hell of a lot faster so the police can't catch up. The movie ends correctly but you're left thinking the same thing as the police captain: so what good was that and who won exactly?


Well said. It has to be the most morally ambiguous film I've yet to come across. There is nothing easy about the movie. You just have men being men, or whatever ideal of manhood they think they should aspire to. Sometimes that's noble, sometimes it's foolish, and sometimes it makes no sense at all. The movie is an entertaining thriller, but like Le Samourai, it's so much more than that. Like you went on to say, the film works in so many different ways.

Sure, on the surface it's about how all men become compromised and how innocence is temporary and fleeting, but what does that mean if these men have no idea who they even are? Or if they are constantly changing? Can they change at all? If they can't, how can innocence even exist in the first place? We can't be born innocent, then corrupted if we are unable to change, right? It makes sense for all men to eventually be corrupted by a corrupt world if none of them know who they are, or really, anything about themselves. A person with no identity is going to inevitably be shaped by the environment they inhabit. It's a terrible thought. Jansen has been driven to alcohol by that thought, and Mattei has learned it by the end of the film. Jansen can find redemption by helping with the robbery because he's decided to fight back against that twisted structure. It's classic noir, heavy stuff, and not even close to the best thing about the movie.

The greatest strength I see in the film is Melville's ability to tell this incredibly complex, layered story largely through images and images alone. He has the reputation of being a minimalist, but his stories are anything but. Le Cercle Rouge is damn near an epic. It's a difficult story to tell. In order to create the morally ambiguous world Melville is aiming for, the criminals have to be sympathetic, but not too sympathetic. We still have to believe they deserve to be caught. But yet, still also want them to succeed. It's a very fine line to walk, but Melville does it.

In Melville the dialogue is sparse (at least in the 2 I've seen), so in order for his films to work, the viewer must get important information elsewhere. From the obvious to the subtle, it's all there in his films. He just points his camera at whatever he wants you to understand, and you do. Le Cercle Rouge's execution is masterful in that regard. For me, that's the pinnacle of filmmaking. To create meaning by connecting related images is what filmmaking is all about. Melville does that in Le Cercle Rouge as well as anything I've ever seen. I guess some people might think he's overly stylish, but I would have to disagree. He takes style to an entirely new level. One where it invades every inch of every frame, and becomes more than just an aesthetic choice. His films wouldn't have anywhere near the amount of substance in someone else's hands. He turns style into substance. That's what gets me excited to see more from the man.

Unke wrote:
I'd be interested to know whether you also thought that Le cercle rouge and Rifiifi are somewhat similar in tone (beyond adhering to the heist movie formula, which Rififi helped to establish, I guess). Both are significantly different, of course, and you're in for a treat.


Obviously they're both heist films and they have quite a few similarities, but I didn't think the tone was all that similar. Both are concerned with criminals having a code of honor and a sense of loyalty, but I feel that Melville's film doesn't go to the same lengths as Dassin's to make the audience sympathize with the thieves. Melville wants us to see a world that has no good guys, just guys. Dassin's film wants us to see that some bad guys can be good guys, they're just misguided. I guess I'm with major, Rififi is a hell of a lot warmer than Le Cercle Rouge.

There's so much more to say about Le Cercle Rouge. I feel like this has been a rambling post, but it's too long to edit and tighten. You'll have to deal with these scatter-brained thoughts. I'm adding this to my collection, like, right now. Unless, of course, Mark actually did off himself as he alluded to in another post. Let's all hope he didn't, but if that's the case, I get his copy.

I can't fucking wait to dig into Army of Shadows.


Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:44 am
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