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This is only the second film I've checked out on IMDB and both have had negative user comments. In this case the person contributing comments was a tad chauvinistic and appeared to be strongly biased against French movies. I am English and can't get enough of French movies,but I also can't get enough of GOOD movies, be they English, American, French, Italian, whatever. Whichever way you slice it Le Cercle Rouge is a masterpiece, shot by a director at, as the cliche has it, the height of his powers. Cool, stylish, slick, professional,call it what you will, it's a winner. Everyone is on top of their game,not least Bourvil in a rare attempt at straight acting - he is best known as a zany comic in a series of box office smashes that don't translate well into English. The Melville schtick, a set-piece, is a doozy this time around, a jewellery heist on the Place Vendome, carried out in total silence in a nod to Rififfi and if anything surpassing it. The sombre,muted tones, embody the sense of cool and also the melancholy that informs the film making anything other than a downbeat ending unthinkable. Like the man said, if you only see one movie this year make it this one.
THE RED CIRCLE (Jean-Pierre Melville - France/Italy 1970).
This might be the coolest film ever made, in the most literal sense of the term. The men here never lose control and never - not once - show their emotions. No dramatic outbursts in this film. Everyone is cool all the time. It's an abstract dream-world, where the men live by their own code, a gangster code with the values of the outside world conspicuously absent. In this masterfully filmed heist saga, Melville tackles the American crime thriller in his distinctly dark and desolate style, yet made in grand fashion with a hefty budget of ten million dollars and with four of the greatest French stars at the time. Alain Delon as the master thief, Yves Montand as an alcoholic ex-cop, Italian star Gian-Maria Volonté as an escaped criminal and André Bourvil in an atypical role as the cynical police chief.
Melville described LE CERCLE ROUGE as his penultimate film and it is indeed a masterfully stylized policier. He also claimed he wanted to shoot a film noir in colour and in many ways he succeeded. The two primary influences for this film were John Huston's 1950 heist movie THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and Jules Dassin's RIFIFI (1955). But unlike these films, where we learn much about the background of the individual gang members, with all their petty needs and worries that motivate them, making clear these are not just ruthless underworld types, but ordinary individuals engaged in a world of everyday worries and human endeavour, Melville, though, tells us almost nothing about his criminals. Why was Corey (Alain Delon) in jail? Why was his associate, Vogel (Jean-Marie Volonté) arrested in the first place? Or why the ex-police marksman Jansen (Yves Montand) left the force, was it his alcoholism? We never learn the motivations behind their actions and never find out what drives these men. Women are even more absent than in his earlier films, with the "emotional" ties exclusively between men. They don't even seem to have personal lives. A sort of an emotional twilight zone and although the setting is not as abstract as in his earlier LE SAMOURAI (1967), Melville still sketches a very eerie world. Melville's favorite actor, Alain Delon, is perfect and almost outdoes himself in coolness, if imaginable.
Deliberately paced and with a length of over 140 minutes, Melville takes his time to tell the story, but its slow pace and length seems a perfect way to show the desolate world these men live in. Nothing is ever out of place in Melville's films and here it's no different, every little detail seemingly of pivotal importance for the story. Although LE SAMOURAI remains my favorite Melville film, even up there with the greatest films ever made, this one also belongs to the very best.
Camera Obscura --- 10/10
Not having seen this film in quite some time, we caught with it not
long ago in the nicely transferred Criterion DVD. "Le cercle rouge" is
a film that owes a lot to other movies, as it keeps reminding us about
"Rififi", "The Asphalt Jungle", among others, because they all deal
with capers that take center stage in the movie and reproduce it in
great detail. Unfortunately, one knows that old adage that crime does
not pay, and from the start, these men involved in it are doomed from
Jean-Pierre Melville was a director of few words. He didn't fill his pictures with a lot of dialog, as it's the case here. Yet, for not being "talky", they had a style of their own as proved with "Le Dolous", "Le Samurai", and his masterpiece, "Bob le flambeur", among others. Mr. Melville had a sense of style that comes across in everything he did. In this film, working with his cinematographer, Henri Decae, he takes us along for a ride through the streets of Paris that shows the vibrant city mainly at night and the bleak winter in France. The score is by Eric Demarsan that emphasizes a jazzy music that accompanies most of the action.
Although the film shows Alain Delon, as Corey, at the center of the action, it is however, the smart inspector Mattei who is the real hero of the movie. As played by the great Bourvil, he is a man that shows a lot of patience because he has figured from the beginning how to catch Vogel, and in the process he gets involved in the investigation of the jewel heist in which he knows the escaped man he is tailing looms large behind it. Bourvil gives an enormously satisfying performance as Mattei showing equal parts of determination and tenderness, as it's the case with the three cats he adores.
Alain Delon always responded with interesting performances his appearances in Mellville's pictures. In here he is Corey, the man who is first seen leaving prison and promising himself he won't go back, but he cannot pass a good thing when he decides to go ahead and participate in the robbery. His association with Vogel and Jansen, pays off in the way they get the job done, but it will also prove a mistake in the way they will not be able to dispose of the loot as the fence they have relied on has a change of heart.
Gian Maria Volonte and Yves Montand are seen as Vogel and Jansen, respectively. They were excellent actors who blend well in the action of the film. Both actors were at their best moment when they took the roles in the film and it shows. Mr. Montand has the more complex character to play as we witness him in his first moment in front of the camera as a man with many demons inside his head.
Jean-Pierre Mellville got wonderful results from his cast and crew in a film, that although feels a bit longer, but still succeeds in showing his style in one of the most memorable pictures from the director.
Everyone likes the coolly created, memorable heist movie. Alain Delon
provides the antihero, Melville provides the cool, and a handful of
other great talent (Yves Montand, Gian Maria Volonte, and Andre
Bourvil, mostly) arrives to add a crisp engaging movie...
...with very little dialog. This is great, because one certain aspect of the genre tends to be a lot of dialog involving the quick-witted and their various repartees. This movie, however, could be watched with the sound completely off and not too terribly much would be missed. Not to say the sound is bad, oh no, the jazzy soundtrack and the crisp audio catching the little movements makes the slow, patient deliberation of the patients very compelling.
What's also really neat about this film is that the color cinematography is pretty fantastic. Usually when it comes to cinematography, black and white movies tend to stick out in my mind, but this film has some very strong and beautiful imagery that makes the movie pure visual pleasure to observe.
Jean-Pierre Melville is one of the most slept on directors of all time. A little too old to ride the crest of the French New Wave, Melville was respected by Godard, Truffaut and the rest but never caught the attention of the international film community like those who followed him did. Melville's crime tales are directed perfectly straight forward without the hipness that permeated the French New Wave . His protagonist of choice Alain Delon had the ability to portray either cop or crook and the audience would always side with him. "The Red Circle," is one of Melville's best collaborations with Delon--not as good as "Le Samourai" (1967) but superior to "Un Flic" (1971). Nowadays cats tend to say "they don't make movies like that anymore" but "they" weren't making films like Melville during his time--over thirty years ago. Don't sleep on Melville, he's the real deal. To put it simply, Melville was and still is the man.
Jean-Pierre Melville is a director I've only recently gotten acquainted
with (I need to see Bob le Flambeur and Le Samourai again to fully
grasp them), but in watching Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle,
supposedly based on a saying in Buddhism) I realized I was watching as
skillful and absorbing a crime film as I had seen in a quite some time.
Though his film has dialog, it is mainly to keep the film's scenes
rolling along, adherent to the plot. What kept me on the alert, even in
seemingly mundane scenes/sequences, was the emphasis on the characters'
movements, or behavior patterns. Melville has his story laid out, and
he is careful to take his time to tell it (this could seem boring to
some, but it does seem to work since he puts a little more emphasis on
the weight of the characters/environments over plot).
Yet look at each of the four main players: Alain Deleon as Corey (just released from prison, scheming a new heist), Gian Maria Volonte as Vogel (escaping & on the lam from hand-cuffed custody, meets Corey by luck), Yves Montand as Jansen (an aged pro with many years of experience with weapons, a friend of Vogel), and Andre Bourvil as Mattei (an experienced investigator, who is on the look-out for Vogel, and on his toes with internal affairs). Each of these actors plays their parts with precision, detachment, and they each have their own kinds of moments that indicate to the audience what their personalities might be besides as criminals and cops. The heist sequence gives little hints, for example, like how Vogel cops-a-feel off a female statue while passing down the halls, or how Jansen takes out a flask and merely has a whiff of the contents (and what a dream this guy creates). Even Corey's movements involving a photograph of a woman arouse interest.
As absorbing and cool the story becomes, and as great the skills were to make it happen (via cinematographer Henri Decae, the editing, and the musical score by Eric Demarsan), it's the people on the screen that gain fascination, in how they stay true to their natures and ideals. Not a film to be missed by French new-wave enthusiasts, and modern-day crime movie buffs might want to take the 140 minutes to soak up the atmosphere of Melville's work. A suave piece of film-making that still ranks as one of my all-time favorites.
I decided to write a comment on this amazing movie because here on IMDb
it is cited that John Woo, a mediocre director who made some decent
films back in his pre-American years but totally ruined his reputation
by his latest, made in US films, plans to remake it. Well, here are a
couple of reasons why it is one of the stupidest ideas for a remake
ever: The plot of the film is simple and even clichéd by today's
standards, but what makes the film a masterpiece is acting by the four
leads, unique direction by Mellville, cinematography, music and its
style. There is no way any director today can make such film, it is
impossible to create such an atmosphere in a movie in today's
Box-office targeted movie business.
John Woo did make a more or less decent film which borrowed from Melville's Le Samourai - The Killer, but remember, it was made when the director was not spoiled by big budgets and expensive (in salaries) but cheap (in acting merits) actors. So what I'm saying is that this is one of the greatest films ever made, together with another film by Melville - Le Samourai. Watch it. And even if the remake will be made, try to avoid it before seeing the great original first.
While its not the masterpiece that "Le Samourai" was (I've accepted by
now that Jean-Pierre Melville was never able to top that classic), I
find "Le Cercle Rouge" to be much better than "Bob le flambeur". I felt
that "Bob le flambeur" was an above-average and influential b-film, but
still a b-film. "Le Cercle Rouge" proves that as a filmmaker Melville
improved as he continued. John Woo is a massive fan of Melville, even
though their film-making style differs. While Woo uses fast-motion for
shootouts and an operatic sense of violence, Melville has a minimalist
style that suits him very well. He wasn't interested in creating
quickly paced action films but more meditative crime thrillers. In that
department, he was one of the best.
"Le Samourai" is still his best work, mainly because it has more character development than this, but on a technical level they're probably equal. Besides, while "Le Samourai" had one great lead performance, this has four. Alain Delon is once again an ultra-cool gangster on the prowl - this man's silence is fascinating. Bourvil is superb as the police inspector on the case of the heist and escaped con. He steals every scene he is in, and proves that he was a skilled dramatic actor (in France he is best known as a slapstick comedian in the mode of Buster Keaton). Yves Montand is great also as the shaky and paranoid gun expert. Gian Maria Volontè (a regular in spaghetti westerns) is overshadowed by his three co-stars but still does an adequate job.
Once again, Melville's direction is superb. Taking equal influence from both American crime thrillers and the French new wave, the man always seems to know the best shots and angles to choose. This is more slowly-paced than most caper flicks, but it really pays off by the end. "Le Cercle Rouge" is a bit short of being an absolute classic, but is still one of the best heist flicks ever made. Tarantino must've seen this before making "Reservoir Dogs". (8/10)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Cercle Rouge follows the lives of two
criminals: Vogel (Gian Maria Volontè), a murderer who gives the cops
the slip while he's being transferred from one city to another by
train; and Corey (Allain Delon), a thief just released from jail. Fate
decides to join these two men to pull off a spectacular heist. In the
background there is Matei (André Bourvil), the detective Vogel escapes
from, implacable in his pursuit and sometimes ruthless in his methods.
Along the movie the viewer meets other minor but fascinating
characters, the best of which is Jansen (Yves Montand), a disgraced
ex-cop and an excellent marksman.
Melville has such a unique style one doesn't need to watch many of his movies to catch on. Le Samourai, Un Flic and Le Cercle Rouge are clearly made of the same cloth: the symmetrical angles; the long shots; the silences; the coats and hats and cigars; the quotes at the beginning; the amazing heists, the fatalism; the unglamorous and inglorious criminal life. Everything that's great in Melville is present here in top form.
And his shortcomings didn't bother me so much this time: the illogical, perplexing behavior of his characters and confusing storytelling, which hurt my enjoyment of his other movies, are almost invisible here. Since Le Cercle Rouge preceded Un Flic that doesn't mean he got better with time; perhaps I'm just getting more used to it and reaching a mindset where it doesn't bother me anymore.
Melville made unique crime movies. As old as they may be, they show more ingenuity, realism and grace than the modern techno-thrillers in which cool thieves use computer systems and James Bond-esquire gadgets to pull off impossible crimes. Melville's criminals aren't cool: they're lonely, socially awkward and probably aware they're not good for much more than planning heists. They're society's unwanted, living in the night, always one step ahead of the police in a game they know they'll lose eventually. There's nothing romantic about them.
Amazingly for a movie of this type, the cops aren't complete idiots either. Matei is smart, crafty, patient and even compassionate. He's not an unlikeable villain or a cliché, he's just an old man doing his job and doing it right. He knows when to use force and when to use brains. Many movies could learn from him.
It's this down-to-earth, unromantic style that makes Melville's movies such a joy to watch and puts him on a special pedestal as one of cinema's great crime masters.
Commissaire Mattei(André Bourvil) is a single with a little gun who loves
cats and his boss at the Paris police department is a philosopher who
that even the police becomes sooner or later guilty. That is what the
is all about. And a jewel robbery at the place Vendome.
Corey (Delon) brings the plan from prison, Vogel(Volonté)joins him and helps him against two tough guys, who are after him, because he took mafioso Ricos(Andre Eycan) money, while Rico already took Coreys girl friend and left him very much alone for five years in jail. Corey and Vogel find a third man, Jansen(Montand), a former police officer and sniper who opens a security lock by shooting special hand made ammunition into a hole. A perfect plan and cooperation, but they have to sell the booty and there is Mattei in the role of a buyer in disguise. The circle closes. Running to help each other they are shot by the cat loving Mattei and his little pistol.
It took Melville 20 years he says to make a robbery film after he failed to get a contract for RIFFIFI. Melville wrote the screenplay and filmed in the south of France and in Paris of yesteryear. The great Henri Decae is as usual the lighting cameraman. It is the one before last picture of Melvilles who died after another film with Delon in 1972.
Melville actually wanted Belmondo instead of Volonté, he didn't like that Italian at all, but Volonté-Vogel is an excellent fugitive and gives next to Bourvil the most convincing performance. But mind you: Melville notes, that Volonté is an instinctive actor, a strange character, very wearying and absolutely impossible on a French set. Melville didn't like him at all and didn't want to work with him ever again.
Melville is wrong. Volonté give the most lively character in the nowhere of not so many interesting characters. You can see what he is feeling being chased by Mattei and his little dangerous gun and all the dogs of France in winter 70. A wild actor.
Also André Bourvil, who passed away close to the time of the filming. He also was not first choice, but definitely a great substitute. He carries the instinct of a lonely hunter through the whole film and gets in the end his chance to become guilty once more.
Jansen has entered at night the jewelry shop with a rifle and a tripod but risks eventually freehandedly a successful shot. When he meets Delon the first time we already know that the elegant Jansen has a severe drinking problem. After the robbery Montand renounces to take his part of the booty and mentions to Delon, who looks up to him, that he only got into the red circle, because he wanted to take revenge on the inhabitants of his wardrobe. Delon doesn't catch what he means. The audience recalls having seen Montand in a great scene in his haunted house fighting helplessly nightmare creatures that come out of the wardrobe and attack him. At that time a very rare scene, one recalls a long time after. I bet it was ever so difficult to arrange and direct that stuff at a time no one imagined the coming days of digital movie making. Great artwork when art was made by hand.
We sure will remember a crew like the actors, still it seems even after 33 years this one stays the less popular of the six thrillers of Melville. What is wrong with it? I am afraid one doesn't take much interest in those three actors (showing three criminals) and their police hunter. We learn too little about Corey and his fatal 5 years away from his beautiful girl(Anna Douking). Montand is still a great sniper, but what made him become a drinking man with funny creatures in his wardrobe. Delon acts as if he is in an earlier adventure of the samourai, Volonté is the man in the trunk of Delons American car and superbly moving and Mattei is swell to look at, a great actor at the edge of his life. But how could he ever possibly doubt that all are guilty ?
In an interview Melville states, that there is no woman in the film. Not in the very red circle, but I remember well that jolly good looking female Anna Douking (with no future career). We are in the 70s. There in fact rises a woman from the bed of an old mafioso wearing nothing and walks slowly to the door to listen to the voice of her old lover Delon. Bardot did something like that 10 years earlier. This time Melville was directing. Well done.
The RED CERCLE has certainly added a few but not many glittering gems to film history. The robbery at Place Vendome and Montands wonder bullet the inhabitants of the wardrobe and Volonté escaping Bouvil in white underwear and carrying his trousers carefully across a stream. That is too little for a great gangster and robbery movie. But the 110 minutes never bore you and it is a game on a high level. And there are probably some secrets you learn when you see the film over and over again. None of the secrets is that we are all guilty and the late Francois Perier is also featured.
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