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Le Cercle Rouge (English Subtitled) 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars (58) IMDb 8.1/10

Ultra-cool gangster Alain Delon plots a daring jewel heist with an escaped killer. "Another winner from the star and writer-director of Le Samourai" (Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide).

Alain Delon, Bourvil
2 hours, 20 minutes

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By Eugene Wei on June 23, 2003
Every review of Le Cercle Rouge uses the word cool because Melville's movies epitomize cool. This is a world of policeman and thieves, all dressed to the nines, all possessing three facial expressions: cool, resolute, and...make that two expressions. The way they light cigarettes has undoubtedly caused lung cancer in thousands of schoolboys aspiring to cool. Melville's movies play like Hemingway's prose reads.
The version I saw is a newly restored, uncut version of Le Cercle Rouge from Rialto Pictures, sponsored by Melville fan John Woo, and it's touring select cities in the United States in 2003. It is far superior to the edited, dubbed version which has been the only version available in the States until now. Let's hope this uncut version makes it to DVD soon to reach a wider audience.
A criminal named Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte before his spaghetti western heyday) is being escorted by a policeman named Mattei(Andre Bouvril). Vogel escapes during a train ride. Meanwhile, a thief named Corey (French movie idol Alain Delon, as impeccably groomed as ever) who spent five years in prison and never ratted on his boss is finally released. A corrupt cop fills him in on a potential heist. Corey wishes to resist, but cannot. He cannot change his nature, or his code. Vogel and Corey cross paths, as foretold by the made-up Buddhist quote that opens the movie which says that certain men are destined to meet in the red circle. They team up for the heist while the policeman stalks them.
Many words are used to describe Melville movies, and all are accurate to some degree. Film noir: no doubt Le Cercle Rouge has the tragic inevitability and stern view of human nature characteristic of film noir. Existentialist: Melville's heroes make their own choices and accept responsibility for their natures.
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The premise is simple: a man named Corey (Alain Delon) is released from prison but is unable to avoid his randez-vous with destiny. True, this had been tried before Melville made The Red Circle. However, great photography should grab you within minutes: cool, dissolved hues framed by a skilled illusionist. The scene in the muddy field registers as one of the best of noir cinema: Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte), an upredictable and fearless fugitive meets the stark, taciturn Corey. Only indispensable dialogue here, a gesture with a toss of pack of cigarettes and the sublime theme composed by Eric De Marsan - the circle is now half-drawn and this movie genre has never since been the same. We never quite see a fork in the road for any of these guys: Corey, Vogel or Jansen, a cop-turned-gangster played by Yves Montand. All three, in spite of their efficiency, move closer and closer to an inevitably tragic end. Thus sets a feeling of temporariness. Whether it's a few thousand franks, a life of a goon in pursuit, or a near-encounter with a lost beautiful woman - it is an imprint as lasting as a puff of smoke from a Galoise. Andre Bourvil created a most convincing portrait of a veteran policeman, whose final coming to the table is as assured as that of Bergmanesque Grim Reaper. Watch the game unfold, while also enjoing the incredible piano arpeggios, brass sections, and a bunch of fantastic supporting-role actors.
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Jean-Pierre Melville, in many ways, shares some of the brooding
and fatalistic tendencies of his colleagues Marcel Carne (Jour Se
Leve, 1939) and Henri-Georges Clouzot (Quai des Orfevres, 1947).
Yet Melville's ethos is one which, unlike theirs, often delineates character almost entirely through action and gesture.
This makes for compelling viewing, particularly in the case of Melville's late, exquisitely crafted thrillers "Le Samourai" (1967), "Un Flic" (1971), and of course "Le Cercle Rouge" (1970).
A picture of this quality deserves the success it had in limited theatrical runs during the Stateside reissue this past Spring;
Criterion has done a marvellous job with it. I can only encourage anyone with a taste for the sheer visceral pull of
a great film to spend two evenings with the disc: one with
the picture itself, and another to view the special features
on the second disc, many of which are documentary materials that
give a wonderful glimpse of the modest, self-effacing director's
M.O. Another winner from Criterion, which I would give ten stars if I could. Let's hope for "Le Samourai" next!
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Melville's films are all noted for their lack of dialogue. In fact one of his early films was called Silence of the Sea. In many ways it is this silence which gives the films their air of mystery and suspense. His vision is noir inspired but his characters win you over in a way that a lot of characters in American noirs don't. This is perhaps because in Melville's universe there is a kind of rationale which makes the criminals seem more just than the law. To Melville man is a corrupt creature and the criminals are just the ones who accept this fact and live with it while the cops are seen to be acting against their natures. The vision is fatalistic as most noirs are but Melville allows his characters to come to terms with it their own way. Alain Delon is the star of all three Melville films I have seen: Le Samurai, Un Flic and Cercle Rouge. The three each portray the noir universe in Melvilles signature way but each one has something unique to recommend it. Le Samurai is the most austere of the three and is considered to be the masterpiece and Delon is perhaps at his best in this one. Un Flic perhaps has the best supporting cast with Catherine Deneuve and Richard Crenna, and Un Flic is usually penalised for having some shoddy special effects though the actual plot is very strong. Cercle Rouge is longer and not as tightly constructed as the other two, its even a little awkward and eccentric in places(Yves Montands hallucination sequence), but in it Melville gives you his most realized vision of social outcasts surviving(or trying to) outside the law. The criminals barely talk perhaps because they know who they are and this gives them a dignity and even a grace that the cops and informants who endlessly babble on never come close to.Read more ›
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