Le Cercle rouge Screen 5 articles

Le Cercle rouge


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  • Come for the crime, stay for the colour palette. Impressively controlled (and great to look at) as a visual achievement, every single hue expressing tamped-down elegiac melancholy - not a primary colour in the bunch, probably - and the early scenes are magnificent, but it's increasingly clear that the plotting is inadequate.

  • Watching Le Cercle Rouge, you feel an excitement at Melville's mastery of form, at the sense of someone working at the height of his powers. It is, for Melville, what Femme Fatale was for Brian De Palma: a grand, summing-up movie, in which the writer-director consumes all the bits and pieces of his earlier crime yarns and reassembles them into a crackerjack über-caper that, at 140 minutes, is at once the longest film in the Melville canon and the lightest on its feet.

  • It is a wholly cinematic work, in that characterization results of fetishized, highly choreographed movement. LE CERCLE ROUGE climaxes with a 25-minute, dialogue-free robbery scene where every action carries extreme consequence—a bold attempt on Melville's part to "outdo" a similar sequence from Jules Dassin's RIFIFI. But where Dassin's achievement stands out from the film around it, Melville's seems the culmination of a very personal style.

  • The metaphysical impulses already evident in Le samouraï burst into blossom in Le cercle rouge (1970), an existentialist noir painted with the cold hues of grey, blue and green where the only warm touch is the red of blood, of death. Dialogues are reduced to a minimum as Melville displays his iconographic mastery throughout having condensed noir into an immanent palette where images are more expressive words.

  • The apocalypse, when it comes, will not be in a ball of fire, the rising of the seas, or locusts descending. It will be three people, who did everything right, pierced by a thousand bullets like St. Sebastian’s arrows. Le Cercle Rouge is the closest Jean-Pierre Melville got to his ideal, a mix of Jacques Becker’s Le Trou and Bresson’s Pickpocket, a blue-gray nocturnal reconnoitering of the flimsy chains keeping men in their place.

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