Le Cercle Rouge [DVD]
Director : Jean-Pierre Melville
Screenplay : Jean-Pierre Melville
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1970
Stars : Alain Delon (Corey), André Bourvil (Le Commissaire Mattei), Gian Maria Volonté (Vogel), Yves Montand (Jansen), Paul Crauchet (Le Receleur), Paul Amiot (Le chef de la police), Pierre Collet (Le Gardien de prison), André Ekyan (Rico), Jean-Pierre Posier (L'assistant de Mattei), François Périer (Santi)
Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle) was the second-to-last of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 13 films. Always a fiercely independent artist who worked as his own producer largely outside of the French studio system (he was one a handful of French directors who had his own studio), Melville crafted a significant body of films over a little more than two decades, and he will always be remembered as one of the founding influences of the French New Wave (Pauline Kael called him the movement’s “spiritual father”) and the godfather of cinematic criminal cool.
Like the New Wave directors upon whom he had such a profound influence, Melville was fascinated by all things American (he took the last name of Melville as an homage to the author of Moby Dick). He always wore dark sunglasses and a Stetson hat, and he revered the works of tough-guy filmmakers like John Huston. His own work, particularly the films he made in the crime genre, are deeply inflected with American cinematic obsessions, and, in turn, these films had a profound effect on a new generation of filmmakers from around the world, from Quentin Tarantino to John Woo (who was integral in getting Le Cercle Rouge restored and re-released in theaters in early 2003).
Le Cercle Rouge is, at its heart, a heist film, although it is as much about the relationships among the criminals and those who pursue them as it is about the crime itself. Alain Delon, who had one of his best roles as an ultra-cool assassin in Melville’s Le Samouraï (1967), stars as Corey, a master thief who is released from prison and immediately sets out planning the robbery of a highly guarded Parisian jewelry store. Fatalism is a crucial component of many of Melville’s films, and right away he establishes this theme through Corey’s return to the criminal life; he literally cannot do otherwise because that is who he is. (Melville blatantly invokes this theme even before the film has begun with a Buddhist quote about how people who are destined to meet will do so inside “the red circle,” the exact meaning of which is left tantalizingly vague.) This fatalism is also sounded when Corey joins forces with Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté), an escapee who happens to hide out in the trunk of Corey’s car. If he had picked any other car, things might have turned out much differently. To complete the group, they bring in Jansen (Yves Montand), a former police investigator and crack rifleman who wants to pull of the heist not for the money, but for the satisfaction of the work itself.
Of course, as this unlikely trio is planning the complicated heist, each is being pursued by someone or something; the past is never dead, but is always chasing after them. Corey is in trouble with mob, who is wants to recover money he stole. Hot on Vogel’s trail is the intrepid police detective Mattei (André Bourvil), a low-key, determined man who is arguably the most honorable character on-screen. Even though Melville coaxes us to identify with the criminals and their plight, he complicates matters by making Mattei a likable and resilient character, rather than a corrupt deviant as so many police detectives are in films of this sort. Jansen is being pursued by something of a different sort: his own personal demons of failure and disillusionment. When we first meet him, he is so strung out on alcohol that he hallucinates animals and reptiles crawling all over his bed, and the heist becomes a form of redemption for him, which is ironic given that he was once a police officer.
Unlike so many films of today, Melville takes his time with the pacing of Le Cercle Rouge, allowing the characters’ personalities to develop and the themes to gel. He keeps us at a distance from his characters, often emphasized with long shots and deliberate framing that puts them on opposite ends of the screen, yet they are so compelling in their silent authority that we are drawn to them; we want to know more about them, even as they refuse to reveal themselves. These are men of action, not of words, and much of what passes between them is silence that bulges with meaning. Simple nods, looks, and body language convey much of what we need to know. Their resourcefulness, dedication, and honor amongst themselves is admirable, despite their status as criminals, and when the noose finally tightens at the end and what we know is coming arrives, we feel a pang of sadness at the loss. This is not an easy emotion to achieve, especially since so much of the film has maintained a detached sense of cool, and for that alone Melville’s film is a criminal masterpiece.
|Le Cercle Rouge Criterion Collection Special Edition Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Audio||French Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| Excerpts from 1971 French TV program Cinéastes de notre temps: Jean-Pierre Melville (portrait en 9 poses)|
Video interview with Rui Nogueira (author of Meville on Melville)
Video interview with assistant director Bernard Stora
On-set and archival footage and interviews
Original and re-release theatrical trailers
24-page insert booklet
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||October 28, 2003|
|Le Cercle Rouge is presented for the first time on home video in its complete, uncut 140-minute version in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1). The high-definition transfer was taken from a new 35mm interpositive, and it looks great. The MTI Digital Restoration System was used to clean up the print, removing thousands of bits of dirt and scratches, resulting in an almost completely unblemished image. The color palette is quite subdued throughout, almost to the point that it looks slightly faded, but that is the film’s intended look.|
|Presented in its original monaural mix, the soundtrack for Le Cercle Rouge is extremely subtle, with very little extradiegetic music and lots of small sound effects that create a realistic ambient environment. The soundtrack’s fidelity and range both sound quite good for a 35-year-old monaural mix, especially since it was also digitally scrubbed to remove ambient hiss and cracks.|
|The supplements are all stored on a second disc and are evenly split between brand-new material and material that dates back to the time of the film’s initial release. In the former category, we have a pair of informative new video interviews, one with Melville scholar Rui Nogueira (author of Meville on Melville) and the other with the film’s assistant director, Bernard Stora. In the latter category, we have some interesting excerpts from Cinéastes de notre temps: Jean-Pierre Melville (portrait en 9 poses), a 1971 French TV program about Melville, and half an hour of behind-the-scenes footage of the production of Le Cercle Rouge, which also includes on-set interviews with Melville and stars André Bourvil and Yves Montand. Rounding out the disc are a pair of nearly identical theatrical trailers, one an original from the film’s 1970 French release and the other from Rialto’s 2003 restored re-release, and two stills galleries, one of production and publicity photographs and the other of international poster art. Also included with the two-disc set is a handsome 24-page insert booklet that includes new essays on the film by critics Michael Sragow and Chris Fujiawara, a reprinted interview with composer Eric Demarsan, excerpts from Nogueira’s Melville on Melville in which the writer/director discusses the film, and a brief introduction by director John Woo.|
©2003 James Kendrick