Monday, July 24, 2017
Le Cercle Rouge
The title refers to an epigraph that is a quote from the Buddha, but Melville made it up. The idea is that when two strangers meet, they meet in a red circle, the place they were destined to meet. In the case of the film, we are talking about two criminals.
First we see a car trying to make a train. It runs a red light--are these all crooks? No, when they get on the train we see one man (Gian Maria Volente) handcuffed to another (Andre Bourvil). The latter is a police detective, escorting his prisoner to jail.
The other man we meet is Alain Delon, who is getting out of prison. But before he goes a guard has an offer of a job for him--that will be the heist. Delon immediately heads to a former associate of his, some ranking member of the syndicate (who also has stolen his girlfriend) and cleans out his safe. He has goons after him, which he kills, so he works up some huger when he stops to grab a bite at a grill.
Volente, the man on the train, manages to escape through a broken window (I'm afraid the windows would have been too strong today, but then there's no movie). Bourvil chases him, but he gets away. Volente ends up climbing into the trunk of a car belong to, wait for it, Delon.
Delon brings Volente into the job and the latter tells him about an ex-cop who is he marksman they need. He's Yves Montand, who we first see in alcoholic delirium. He straightens himself up and joins the team.
The job is a jewelry store, and the heist itself owes a great debt to Rafifi, as the men carry it out in about a thirty-minute scene with no dialogue. But it turns out that the gangster Delon stole from is still very angry.
Le Cercle Rouge is now my favorite Melville film (it seems that every new one I see takes that honor). I love heist films, and this one is great. Montand is needed because a button behind locked but chain doors needs to be pressed, so he shoots it. But the goods have to be fenced (always a big problem in heist movies--see The Asphalt Jungle) and things go awry.
The film was shot in color but when I think of it now I see it in black and white. There are no bright colors and, interestingly, given the title, very few instances of red. Just a few billiard balls (shot from above) and at the end a rose, which sort of predicts death the way oranges predict it in Coppola's Godfather films. It is also full of American noir details, such as men in fedoras and trenchcoats.
The acting is all tough-guy solid (this is a film full of testosterone) and even a little poignant, as Montand doesn't even wants his cut--he's just grateful to be useful.
Le Cercle Rouge is a masterpiece of filmmaking.