Monday, June 06, 2005

All men are guilty. They're born innocent, but it doesn't last [june 04, 2005]

Having missed out on catching Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle), Jean Pierre-Melville's heist film during its re-mastered one-week only run in Atlanta a couple of years ago, I jumped at the chance at making amends when it popped up as part of the Thieves Are Us series at the High Museum. The film contains a lot of the attributes I've taken for granted as being typical of French films (based solely on the ones I've seen): any attempt at spectacle is eschewed, there is a very patient sense of the deliberate (which a lot of audiences can read as "slow, plodding"), a sense of detail (that is often tossed in the American counterparts of such films), and a strange blend of humour. All this and much more abound in this story of a heist that, in the tradition of the genre, falls apart. The film opens with an explanation of the title: a quote from Rama Krishna (Parmahansa I believe) (who in turn quotes the Buddha) about a red circle and how people who are destined to meet will all converge into the red circle. The significance is evident in the final moments of the film, but doesn't do much more for the proceedings. There's an impeccable sense of framing and composition (those frames that feel like watercolours, the interior of Jensen's house, the jewellery store, the sequences in the woods). There's an excruciating level of detail in the actions which almost verges on being maddeningly Kubrickian. Wipes and dissolves abound as transition devices while the editing rears its head occasionally for nice mini-montages (the "lights" sequence where we see the security guard turn off the lights in the store one by one, and then turns the night light on, only to be taken by a cut to Jensen's house where he lights his cigarette). Nice touches abound: Jensen's introductory sequence (which features a hallucination that leaves you in a mix of shock, fear, distaste and all that with a touch of humour; little actions like the passing of the bag of jewels near the end of the film. For more variations on humour check out the first time Corey and Vogel meet. The soundscape is very very understated. The only music you hear prominently is the live jazz for the dances at Santi's.

Given that John Woo is in the process of remaking this film, you shouldn't be surprised to see the "John Woo presents" at the beginning of the film. However, that last bit of news has left me puzzled - while there is a possibility that Woo might present an interesting interpretation of the material, his recent oeuvre (especially since he moved to the hills of Hollywood) makes that a very slim one. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and wait till I hear more.

Another forthcoming film that has my attention is Richard Linklater's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. Linklater's reuses of his trippy animation (see also: Waking Life) (at least the trailer uses it) seems like just the thing for PKD's nightmarishly surreal vision of the future. This definitely looks promising on the front of interpretation.

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