Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

Review #1,221

Director:  Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast:  Alain Delon, Yves Montand, Andre Bourvil, Gian Maria Volonté 
Plot:  After leaving prison, master thief Corey crosses paths with a notorious escapee and an alcoholic former policeman.  The trio proceed to plot an elaborate heist.

Genre:  Crime / Drama / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  140min
Rating:  PG for some nudity.
International Sales:  Studiocanal

“All men are guilty.  They're born innocent, but it doesn't last.”

Of all French filmmakers, Jean-Pierre Melville is one of my true favourites.  Despite the labourious pacing in his films, I find myself inexplicably drawn to them.  Even days after the viewing, I may forget about the plot, but I remember how the film felt like.  Perhaps it is the deep sense of retro-cool that Melville has captured in his body of work that continues to seduce me into revisiting such films as Le Samourai (1967) and Army of Shadows (1969).

Le Cercle Rouge (or 'The Red Circle'), a film of startling mastery of genre and mood setting also belongs in Melville's canon of formidable pictures.  Submerging us into a world of crime amid gorgeous Parisian architecture and automobiles, as well as lush natural landscapes, the film ticks like clockwork. 

From the opening act involving parallel editing that economically introduces us to three (of the film’s four) characters, the film slowly but surely builds up to one of the most intricate heist sequences ever shot – a thirty minute slow-burner involving a daring night robbery of jewels in a building with state-of-the-art security.

Alain Delon, Yves Montand and Gian Maria Volonte give great performances, playing an ex-convict who has just been released from prison, an alcoholic former policeman and a wanted criminal respectively.  Andre Bourvil who plays a police detective on the hunt for the latter is efficient but morally corrupt. 

They make up the quartet of intriguing characters who would meet in the metaphorical 'red circle', a philosophy borne out of Buddha's teachings.  While it doesn't have anything to do with religion per se, the film's theological underpinnings give it a heavy dose of fatalism, or if you like, karma.

In an extraordinary introductory scene for Montand's character, we see creepy crawlies and slithering creatures wriggle their way onto his bed – I have not seen a more brilliant way to introduce a character purely from a psychological standpoint. 

A masterful crime thriller that remains highly influential, especially in the Hong Kong cinema of John Woo and Johnnie To, Le Cercle Rouge is Melville's astutely-crafted love letter to anyone who would adore and admire his works. 

Verdict:  A masterful crime thriller by Melville with one of the most intricate heist sequences ever shot.


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