`Cercle Rouge' is a gangster classic


April 11, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Jean-Pierre Melville, who died in 1973, was one of France's towering movie mavericks and most striking individualists - for starters, he changed his name from Grumbach after reading Moby Dick. Forty minutes longer than the previous American-release version, the complete cut of Melville's 1970 Le Cercle Rouge, receiving its regional premiere today at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, reveals this hard-guy epic to be a great, eccentric gangster film.

A self-styled classicist and loner, who wore dark suits with stetsons or fedoras like his beloved action-movie heroes, Melville inspired the New Wave with his ingenious, low-budget techniques. He won international acclaim for adapting Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants terribles (1949). But he devoted his later career to a series of quirky crime movies - including Bob le Flambeur (1955), recently remade by Neil Jordan as The Good Thief (with Nick Nolte).

Le Cercle Rouge stars Melville veteran Alain Delon as a just-released con who inherits a plan for a Paris jewelry store heist; Gian Maria Volonte as a fugitive who becomes his partner; and Yves Montand as an alcoholic ex-policeman who enlists as the team's marksman. Bourvil plays the inspector on the trio's tail, and Francoise Perier a well-connected club owner. As these men test themselves and each other in tense confrontations and spectacular set pieces (notably the silent grand robbery), their performances mesh stylized allure with genuine street glamour (Delon), wildness (Volonte), world-weariness (Bourvil, Perier) or melancholy (Montand).

Melville and his cinematographer, Henri Decae, are cinematic sharpshooters and masters of wide-screen geometry. The epigraph - an artificial piece of Eastern philosophy - says, "When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever their diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the Red Circle." Melville stages and Decae shoots the action so acutely that an audience thrills to the formation of this circle - and to the spectacle of these jagged-edged men constantly threatening to smash its perimeter. Throughout, Melville and Decae fill out stark contours with deep, almost subterranean colors.

The Red Circle is a dish best served in a revamped movie palace like the AFI Silver: What Melville and company cook up amounts to hard-boiled Eggs Benedict.

The AFI Silver Theatre is at 8653 Colesville Road in Silver Spring. For program information go to www.AFI.com/Silver or call 301-495-6700.

Old movie, new movie

This week's entry at the Charles' Saturday revival series, I'm No Angel, features Mae West in her bawdy glory as a sideshow dancer and lion tamer whose mottoes are, "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better" and "It's not the men in your life that counts, it's the life in your men." Showtime: noon. Admission: $5. Information: www.thecharles.com or 410-727-FILM.

Cinema Sundays at the Charles offers Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz, Andy Garcia and Dustin Hoffman in a con-game movie aptly titled Confidence. Coffee and bagels: 9:45 a.m. Showtime: 10:30 a.m. Information: 410-727 FILM or online at www.cinemasundays.com.

Film fests

Tomorrow at 9 p.m., the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival features Audrey (Amelie) Tautou in the comedy God is Great, I'm Not as a convert to Judaism who identifies with the religion more closely than her Jewish lover. The festival closes Sunday at 3 p.m. with Monsieur Batignole, producer-director-writer-star Gerard Jugnot's tale of a butcher in Occupied France who hides three Jewish children from the Nazis and plans an escape for them across the Swiss border. Both movies will screen at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynbrook Ave., Owings Mills. Admission: $8. Information: 410-542-4900, Ext. 239.

This weekend, the Midnight Marquee Press, publisher of movie-history books as well as the horror-film magazine Midnight Marquee and the general film-buff magazine Mad About Movies, sponsors "Son of FANEX," a celebration of celluloid sci-fi and horror. Scheduled pictures include the locally produced Despiser and GhostWatcher. Guests include Hammer horror film actor Edward de Souza and Susan Gordon, the daughter of Bert I. Gordon, director of Attack of the Puppet People (1958). Location: Days Hotel and Conference Center in Timonium. Times: Friday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: $10 per day (children under 12 free). Information: 410 665 1198 or www.midmar.com.

Free `Baraka'

The Senator celebrates "Belvedere Springfest" - this year marking the reopening of nearby Belvedere Square Market - with a free Saturday matinee of the Green-movement favorite Baraka. The Sufis define baraka as life-essence, and the movie named after it uses images from all over the world to evoke man's connection to nature and the eternal. The whole event starts at 11:30 a.m. with a free-form drum circle; the picture screens at 1 p.m.

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