Red Circle, The

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

France-Italy| 1970. English subtitles. Colour. 140 mins.

This retrospective of Melville’s work has in part been prompted by the re-release of a superb restoration of his penultimate film, which was originally released in the English-speaking world in a severely truncated and dubbed version. The director’s most popular work, Le Cercle rouge pays tribute to John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and other heist movies with its tale of men getting together, performing a daring robbery and suffering its tragic consequences. Yet Melville’s film significantly departs from these classic models in its emphasis on enigmatic, melancholy heroes, bleak philosophical outlook and self-reflexity. The meticulously planned and brilliantly executed heist is both riveting spectacle and metaphor for Melville’s conception of filmmaking. At the core of Le Cercle rouge is the paradox of men deploying extraordinary skills to demonstrate the ultimate futility of effort. ‘All men are guilty’, warms the chief of police, and indeed they all meet in the ‘red circle’, as foretold by the opening quotation. This pared-down gangster epic is also Melville’s most opulent, star-studded movie. Alain Delon, Gian-Maria Volonte and Yves Montand are memorable gangsters, but it is Bourvil who steals the show as Inspector Mattei. The beloved French comic appears here in an unusually tragic role that was made all the more poignant by his death shortly before the film’s release. A noir masterpiece in colour, Le Cercle rouge is the consummate distillation of the heist movie and a totally original take on it.

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