Combustible Celluloid
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With: Alain Delon, Yves Montand, Gian Maria Volonte, Andre Bourvil, Paul Crauchet, Paul Amiot, Pierre Collet, André Ekyan, Jean-Pierre Posier, François Périer
Written by: Jean-Pierre Melville
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 140
Date: 10/20/1970

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Full 'Cercle'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Jean-Pierre Melville resurgence is moving slowly, but is definitely underway thanks to this John Woo-presented re-release of his penultimate film Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle). Made in 1970, it has never before been released in this country -- at least not in this complete, 140-minute version.

Woo has continually listed Melville's Le Samourai (1967) among his favorite films, and Le Cercle Rouge is very much in the same vein -- dabbled in muted grays, blues and greens and starring a stoic Alain Delon, a man with not much to say but who has a lot on his mind.

Delon plays a man named Corey, just released from prison. On his way out, a security guard tells him about a job, a sure thing. On the way to prepare for the job an escaped felon, Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte), climbs into Corey's trunk. Though Corey was in the clear, Vogel turns the heat on the pair of them; a cat-loving cop, Commissaire Mattei (Andre Bourvil), from whom Vogel escaped, will stop at nothing to recapture him and anyone else nearby.

Meanwhile, Corey and Vogel prepare for the big job, to rob the Place Vendome in Paris. To pull it off, they'll need a sharpshooter to help turn off the alarm. And so they enlist the alcoholic ex-cop Jansen (Yves Montand), who puts away the bottle and agrees to help.

The heist goes off without a hitch, shot in typical Melville style in a long, virtually silent sequence, but the thieves run into trouble when the collection proves too hot to fence.

It's no wonder John Woo reveres these films; Melville was the king of cool, detached and ironic action. (Tarantino, Godard, Jarmusch and Wong Kar-wai are also big fans.) In one scene Corey beats up a couple of thugs in a billiards hall. The sequence goes by quickly, with beautifully orchestrated cuts, mixed with one brief sideways pan as a gun slides spinning across the floor just before Corey picks it up. Crystal clear and directly to the point.

While Le Cercle Rouge is indeed an accomplished caper film, Melville distances himself from the rest of the pack with his sense of timeless destiny. A Buddhist quote opens the film, and cruel, cruel fate closes it. In-between, the strong, silent nature of our three heroes indicates still waters running deep.

DVD Details: Criterion's handsome double-disc set comes with the restored, uncut film, plus new and old interviews, production stills, trailers, new (optional) subtitles. A 24-page booklet includes writings by Michael Sragow, Chris Fujiwara, John Woo, and an interview with Melville. The Criterion Collection released a gorgeous Blu-Ray in 2011 with all the same extras as their DVD release.

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