Le Cercle Rouge

Criterion Collection, $39.95

ONE OF THE FEW films of 2003 to tower above the crowd, Jean-Pierre Melville's 33-year-old Rouge has an elegance and an integrity that makes its American gangster cousins before and since 1970seem slightly coarse and obvious. Among its quartet of stars are Alain Delon and Yves Montand, quite enough to lure us into the Melville universe of terse, trench-coated men with inviolate codes of behavior. Thanks to admirer John Woo, this 2003 refurbished, resubtitled version (rereleased in June) also has 40 crucial minutes restored from an earlier butchering.

That's the version in Criterion's spiffy two-disc DVD (Oct. 28), one of whose discs goes a long way toward illuminating the enigmatic Melville. Perversely enough, discovering the real man behind the Ray-Bans, the white Stetson, and even the adopted "Melville" diminishes his fascination not a whit.

Melville himself appears in a series of nine "Poses," made for a French television series by the widow of André Bazin. (The entry-level eclecticism and sophistication presumed by the series is enough to break your heart.) Gravely, and we suspect drolly, the master takes us through his studio and his home outside Paris, demonstrating his "alas, unpatented" shutters by which he can turn day into night and not be shattered by daylight after a night of writinghis customary schedule.

Even more revealing is the long interview with Melville's former assistant director, Bernard Stora, who is constantly amazed by how Melville could transform "seemingly banal material into something fantastic." Stora gives concrete examples of the kind of seduction and reinforcement that went into the making of a "Melvillian" actore.g., Rouge's André Bourvil (Capt. Mattei), a music-hall star remade into a serious performer with substance and depth. Finally, for the personal, erudite, and gossipy side, there's a lively interview with Rui Nogueira, author of Melville on Melville and font of who was sleeping with whom. Quel package. SHEILA BENSON

ALSO FROM CRITERION with many extras is Fellini's 1954 classic La Strada on Nov. 11, when Hal Hartley's 1994 Amateur debuts on disc (without goodies), as does Gus Van Sant's fairly awful Gerry. Also, the SIFF '00 charmer Janice Beard stars Eileen Walsh and Rhys Ifans. Future governor you-know-who stars in both the 25th-anniversary release of Pumping Iron and Terminator 3. EDS.


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