7 December 2006 | Camera-Obscura
THE RED CIRCLE (Jean-Pierre Melville - France/Italy 1970).
This might be the coolest film ever made, in the most literal sense of the term. The men here never lose control and never - not once - show their emotions. No dramatic outbursts in this film. Everyone is cool all the time. It's an abstract dream-world, where the men live by their own code, a gangster code with the values of the outside world conspicuously absent. In this masterfully filmed heist saga, Melville tackles the American crime thriller in his distinctly dark and desolate style, yet made in grand fashion with a hefty budget of ten million dollars and with four of the greatest French stars at the time. Alain Delon as the master thief, Yves Montand as an alcoholic ex-cop, Italian star Gian-Maria Volonté as an escaped criminal and André Bourvil in an atypical role as the cynical police chief.
Melville described LE CERCLE ROUGE as his penultimate film and it is indeed a masterfully stylized policier. He also claimed he wanted to shoot a film noir in colour and in many ways he succeeded. The two primary influences for this film were John Huston's 1950 heist movie THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and Jules Dassin's RIFIFI (1955). But unlike these films, where we learn much about the background of the individual gang members, with all their petty needs and worries that motivate them, making clear these are not just ruthless underworld types, but ordinary individuals engaged in a world of everyday worries and human endeavour, Melville, though, tells us almost nothing about his criminals. Why was Corey (Alain Delon) in jail? Why was his associate, Vogel (Jean-Marie Volonté) arrested in the first place? Or why the ex-police marksman Jansen (Yves Montand) left the force, was it his alcoholism? We never learn the motivations behind their actions and never find out what drives these men. Women are even more absent than in his earlier films, with the "emotional" ties exclusively between men. They don't even seem to have personal lives. A sort of an emotional twilight zone and although the setting is not as abstract as in his earlier LE SAMOURAI (1967), Melville still sketches a very eerie world. Melville's favorite actor, Alain Delon, is perfect and almost outdoes himself in coolness, if imaginable.
Deliberately paced and with a length of over 140 minutes, Melville takes his time to tell the story, but its slow pace and length seems a perfect way to show the desolate world these men live in. Nothing is ever out of place in Melville's films and here it's no different, every little detail seemingly of pivotal importance for the story. Although LE SAMOURAI remains my favorite Melville film, even up there with the greatest films ever made, this one also belongs to the very best.
Camera Obscura --- 10/10