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MAIN CAST
  LE CERCLE ROUGE
The Red Circle  
Jean-Pierre Melville
1970 || 140 mins

Alain Delon is Corey, a steely-eyed master thief, newly released from prison after a five-year stretch. Gian Maria Volonte is Vogel, a murder suspect on the run from the police. The police lead by Superintendent Mattei (Bourvil), scour the underworld, determined to recapture their prisoner at any cost. After Vogel saves Corey’s life, they team up together in an ambitious plan to rob jewels from the Place Vendome in Paris. To pull it off they need a sharpshooter to turn off the alarm, so they recruit an alcoholic ex-cop named Jansen (Yves Montand). The heist is carried through to perfection but a double-crossing associate tips off the authorities leading to tragic consequences.

see also articles on:
Top 10 Films by Lesser Known Directors || Jean-Pierre Melville Profile|| French New Wave History || French New Wave Film Guide

A powerful, existential thriller about honour, fortune and fate, Le Cercle Rouge could be described as the ultimate Jean-Pierre Melville experience. Indeed, as the director’s last but one film, it serves as the perfect testament to everything associated with the director’s singular vision and style. Here, once again, are the laconic, solitary characters, the smoky after-hours locales, and the skilfully executed action sequences. All the elements of a classic American crime film but seen through a lens uniquely French in tone.

Melville directs the story with a detached eye that allows the characters to operate in an almost mythical universe where professionalism and an ingrained code of honour are held in higher regard than life and death. Their backgrounds remain as mysterious as their closely guarded emotions; we learn about them not through expository dialogue but through their actions. Every move they make tells us something about who they are.

This attention to detail reaches its finest expression in the scene inside the Place Vendome. Here Melville creates a heist sequence every bit the equal of those in Riffifi (1955), a film he was originally hired to direct, and John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950), a film noir he revered above all others. Like all the best examples of the genre, we find our sympathies inescapably drawn to the thieves. We want them to get away with it but know they can’t and won’t. The moment of euphoria is brief; the red circle of destiny is already closing in around them.

Le Circle Rouge marked the summit of Jean-Pierre Melville’s cinematic career. Boosted by first-rate performances from the four lead actors, all of them iconic in their own right, the film become a huge success in France. Outside the country, Melville’s gangster epic has steadily grown in reputation, proving enormously influential, not least on the work of Quentin Tarantino and John Woo.







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