Monday, November 13, 2017
Le Cercle Rouge
Written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, Le cercle rouge (The Red Circle) is the story of a master thief who meets a prison escapee and a former cop where they team up for a heist as they deal with an inspector. The film is a study of three men planning a heist to ensure that everything goes exactly as planned while they’re being pursued by a police investigator. Starring Alain Delon, Gian Maria Volonte, Yves Montand, and Andre Bourvil. Le cercle rouge is a ravishing and intoxicating film from Jean-Pierre Melville.
The film follows two different criminals who meet as they team up for a heist with a former cop while one of the criminals is being pursued by a police investigator who was accompanying him to prison. It’s a film that play into men who are trying to pursue one another or flee from someone as its title refers to that place where everyone comes together through some form of destiny. Jean-Pierre Melville’s screenplay opens with these two paralleling narratives into these two criminals in the thief Corey (Alain Delon) and a prisoner named Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte) as the former is being released from prison while the latter makes an escape on a train as a manhunt would follow led by Inspector Mattei (Andre Bourvil) who was accompanying Vogel. Corey would go on the run after robbing a former associate and be involved in a scuffle with that associate’s goons as he discovers that Vogel had hidden himself in the trunk of his new car.
The two would learn about their respective situations as Corey has some vital information about a robbery he wants to do as Vogel knows a former cop named Jansen (Yves Montand) who is an expert marksman that is dealing with alcoholism. While Corey and Vogel plan the robbery with Jansen scoping out everything in this posh jewelry store, Inspector Mattei is in pursuit of Vogel as he tries to figure out how to capture him alive as he would encounter a series of mysteries that Vogel is involved in. Even as he would delve into the crime underworld to get what he wants while straying away from being corrupted as he had seen a lot of people in the force succumb to vices.
Melville’s direction definitely has some stylistic scenery in the way he captures the idea of a heist film though much of his compositions are straightforward. Shot on various locations in France including parts of Paris, the film does play into this idea of characters meeting as if it was destiny as much of the first act is about Inspector Mattei’s pursuit of Vogel and Corey on the run from people in the criminal underworld. Melville’s approach to compositions has him focusing on the scope of the locations with the wide shots in Vogel running from the authorities and how he would meet Corey through accidental means with Corey unaware that Vogel hid in the trunk of his car. The usage of close-ups and medium shots that play into the suspense as well as Vogel and Corey’s first meeting as Melville would create shots that are simple to establish who they are as well as the need to make a big score. The introduction of Jansen is surreal as it plays into his alcoholism where he would see all of these animals coming into his home as it is a key moment in the second act.
One notable sequence during the second act is where Jansen goes to the jewelry shop as it’s about the room where all of the jewels are on display and what is in the room. The attention to detail as well as the geography of where the cameras might be as well as a lock for what might be a vault is shown through wide and medium shots as Melville gives the audience an idea of what has to be done. The heist sequence itself is definitely the highlight of the film as it’s this long sequence that goes on for nearly 30 minutes as it about what these three men would do and the role they would play. It is paced slowly but it’s crucial to show how meticulous these three men are in making sure everything goes right as there is barely a word said throughout. The aftermath is filled with thrills as it play into Inspector Mattei trying to find Vogel as well as the men who robbed the jewelry store as its climax is about Mattei trying to set a trap. Overall, Melville crafts a riveting and evocative film about three men planning a jewelry heist as they’re being pursued by the criminal underworld and a determined police investigator.
Cinematographer Henri Decae does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its natural yet grey exteriors to play into the cold weather for the rural locations as well as the usage of lights for some of the scenes at night including the bright and extravagant look at the nightclub scenes. Editor Marie-Sophie Dubus does amazing work with the editing as it is stylized with usage of jump-cuts, transition wipes, and other rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense and the drama. Production designer Theo Meurisse and set decorator Pierre Charron do excellent work with the look of the dusted apartment where Corey and Vogel hide out as well as the rooms in the police station and at the nightclub where one of Vogel’s old friends run.
The costumes of Colette Bardot are fantastic as it is mainly straightforward with many of the men wearing suits while there’s some stylish clothing for the dancers at the nightclub. The sound work of Jean Neny is superb for the atmosphere of the nightclub as well as the sparse usage of low-key sounds for the heist sequence. The film’s music by Eric Demarsan is terrific as it’s a mixture of jazz and orchestral music that is used sparingly during the course of the film with bits appearing during the heist.
The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles from Francois Perier as Vogel’s old contact Santi who runs a nightclub, Pierre Collet as a prison guard that Corey befriends early in the film, Andre Eykan as Corey’s old associate Rico whom he robs, and Paul Amiot as the police chief who is suspicious towards Inspector Mattei over his methods. Yves Montand is brilliant as Jansen as a former cop who is struggling with his alcoholism as he is asked by Corey to work with him and Vogel where he would unveil his true sense of professionalism when being sober as well as someone who is always looking out at anything he see that could go wrong. Gian Maria Volonte is amazing as Vogel as an escape convict who is trying to evade Inspector Mattei where he teams up with Corey while maintaining a low profile in his role for the heist.
Andre Bourvil is phenomenal as Inspector Mattei as a man who is trying to pursue Vogel and investigate other crimes as he’s an unconventional inspector that has methods where he can get the job done but he’s also a man of justice. Finally, there’s Alain Delon in a sensational performance as Corey as a master thief who has been released from prison who gets a tip about a place that is for a job where he tries to ensure that nothing goes wrong while befriending Vogel and Jansen as it’s an understated performance from Delon.
Le cercle rouge is a magnificent film from Jean-Pierre Melville. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, an engaging story, and inventive sequences that play into the meticulous nature of a heist. It’s a film that explores men trying to create the ultimate heist without incident unaware of the meeting they will have with the man trying to pursue them in this unlikely form of destiny. In the end, Le cercle rouge is a tremendous film from Jean-Pierre Melville.
Jean-Pierre Melville: 24 Hours in the Life of a Clown – Le silence de la mer - Les enfants terribles - (Quand tu liras cette letter) - Bob le flambeur - (Two Men in Manhattan) – (Leon Morin, Priest) – (Le Doulos) – Magnet of Doom – Le deuxieme soufflé – Le samourai - Army of Shadows - (Un flic)
© thevoid99 2017
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I'm not at all familiar with Melville. I'm lacking in French film in general, though. This one sounds very interesting.
Hi Steven! Boy I haven't watched a French film in a while. I did see a short French film during TCFF that I enjoyed. I love Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai that also has Alain Delon in it, so I have to check this one out.
@Wendell-I'd start with Le Samourai and then work my way into the rest of his work as there's still a bunch of his films that I need to see.
@ruth-This is a film worth seeking out. Especially for the heist sequence.
Fantastic review. I binged all of Melville's film in August (for the first time!), and this was right up there with the best of them. So happy you reviewed it, Melville's films deserve more attention!
@Alex-Thank you. The one I want to see the most is Army of Shadows and then go through everything else. Based on the five films I've seen from him, I can't think of anything bad he's done.
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