Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle)
By Sean Axmaker
Crime cinema has never been so meticulously and coolly executed.
Taciturn thief Alain Delon (intense and dapper in trenchcoat and fedora)
and escaped prisoner Gian Maria Volonte cross paths as if by fate, bound
by saving each other's life, and join with disgraced ex-cop Yves Montand
for their next job: a daring jewel robbery. Le Cercle Rouge is the
ultimate expression of the romantic doom that Jean-Pierre Melville
established in his masterpieces Bob Le Flambeur and Le Samourai.
The centerpiece heist, a wordless 20-minute sequence with masked men
communicating in codified gestures, is a tour de force of cinematic
efficiency that tops even Rififi in its celebration of criminal
skill and nerve. Melville's cool detachment doesn't allow us to really
warm up to these uncompromising pros, but his cinematic precision is
spellbinding and his unforgiving world of loyalty, professionalism,
sacrifice, and codes of honor is an irresistible underworld fantasy.
The Criterion DVD restores the film, which was originally cut by 40
minutes for its American release, to its full-length director's cut.
Additionally, it features new interviews with Melville's assistant
director Bernard Stora and friend and expert Rui Nogueira, rare archival
interviews with the director and his cast, and a new introduction by
filmmaker and Melville fan John Woo among its wealth of supplements.