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Captain Mattei (Andre Bourvil) is taking his handcuffed prisoner, Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte), on a train between Marseilles and Paris, but Vogel picks the lock of his handcuffs and escapes through the window. At the same time, Corey, (Alain Delon) is released early from prison, after one of the guards (Pierre Collet) draws him into a plan to steal 20 million francs worth of jewellery from a high class retailer. Enlisting the help of specialist Jansen (Yves Montand), and all the time evading Captain Mattei on their tail, who is resourceful and more than ready to use informants, the gang arrange for a fence to take the loot. But the daring, meticulously planned robbery is not the only challenge they have to overcome.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Jean-Pierre Melville has been almost defied by many, as some sort of spiritually enhanced Westerner whose mythological take on filmmaking gives his films a zen-zone, if that doesn’t sound too offhand. Seeing this 1970 noir classic in full now (restored and uncut for the first time in Australia, and subtitled not dubbed), out of its time context, we are indeed taken with the sense of calm that oozes of what can also be called the cool of the characters. That, and the fact that he’s not afraid to let silence work its magic, makes the film intriguing and compelling. 

Never mind the deeper analysis, here are characters who are part of a gang; a small and criminal gang, yet they are not evil men. Melville allows his actors to expand into these characters and there are many subtle touches that hint at even more layers than we can measure. For example, the complexity of the relationship between Vogel and Santi (Francois Perier) is only hinted at. Santi is the man to whom a not altogether friendly Vogel goes for help after his escape. The woman in Santi’s bed is the woman in photos that Vogel meant to leave on the check out counter in prison but was handed them to take. He does still, manage to discard them….And what of the penultimate scene in which Captain Mattei exclaims “It’s you!’ to Jansen and Jansen’s quip about the never ending inefficiency of the police. In the context of the scene, it remains a question mark, never explained. 

Perhaps it’s part of the complex and profoundly human nature of the film, in which, despite the Police chief’s repeated view that “all men are guilty”, Melville also allows that guilt is not a simple, one dimensional characteristic. Beautifully restrained and yet unremittingly tense, Le Cercle Rouge is a romantic film in that regard, attuned to the notions of friendship and loyalty. Stealing jewellery seems a far less important crime than treachery between men. 

Review by Louise Keller:
A riveting heist movie with lingering themes of friendship and loyalty, this uncut, remastered and restored version of the 70s French gangster classic Le Cercle Rouge is unforgettable. Jean-Pierre Melville’s brilliant film is never overburdened by dialogue, but whose most memorable scenes play out in total silence. Of course, the most notable is the enthralling heist sequence, which begins with two men’s silhouettes on the rooftop, with minimalist percussion heralding the tension to come. Melville had long aspired to write a heist movie and coupled by his disappointment at not making Rififi (which also comprises a heist scene you are not likely to forget), he threw much passion into the writing and making of Le Cercle Rouge, which he considered to be the toughest of the 12 films he had made to date. 

This is a film about cops and crooks. We get to know and like the characters on both sides. There’s André Bourvil’s world weary veteran cop whose three cats wait for their master in his lonely apartment; Alain Delon’s enigmatic anti-hero; spaghetti western icon Gian Maria Volonté’s newly escaped prisoner and Yves Montand’s complex sharp-shooting ex-cop looking for a reason to escape his demons. We learn a lot about each of these characters from the smallest of gestures. It’s edge-of-the-seat entertainment filled with twists, double crosses and surprises. 

All our anticipation is well rewarded in the build up to, the actual heist and the dramatic aftermath. Muted nourish cinematography shows off the various settings to their effective best and we begin to understand the language of friendship which these men share. Guns and cigarettes act as tokens of friendship and feature more prominently than words. This is the language of real men. The inspiration for Ocean’s Eleven and David Mamet’s Heist, Le Cercle Rouge is an original and it’s a treat to see it in its entirety and at its cinematic best.

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CAST: Alain Delon, Yves Montand, Andre Bourvil, Gian Maria Volonté, Francois Perier, Paul Crauchet, Paul Amiot, Pierre Collet, André Ekyan, Rene Berthier

PRODUCER: Robert Dorfmann

DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre Melville

SCRIPT: Jean-Pierre Melville


EDITOR: Marie-Sophie Dubus

MUSIC: Éric Demarsan

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Théobald Meurisse

RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney/Melbourne: October 9, 2003

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