LE CERCLE ROUGE
Sog., Scen.: Jean-Pierre Melville. F.: Henri Decaë. M.: Marie-Sophie Dubus, Jean- Pierre Melville. Scgf.: Théobald Meurisse. Mus.: Eric Demarsan. Int.: Alain Delon (Corey), Gian Maria Volonté (Vogel), Yves Montand (Jansen), Bourvil (il commissario Mattei), Paul Crauchet (il ricettatore), Paul Amiot (il capo della polizia), Pierre Collet (il guardiano della prigione), François Périer (Santi). Prod.: Robert Dorfman per Les Films Corona, Selenia Cinematografica. DCP. Col.
Jean-Pierre Melville’s penultimate film appears to be a gripping noir about the meticulous preparation and perpetration of a night-time robbery in a large jewellery store in Place Vendôme. As is always the case in the great French director’s films, the clichés of a heist caper unravel into a melancholic meditation on the randomness, futility and solitude that characterise the human condition. Le Cercle rouge may seem realistic, in its precision and its close observation of the continuity of actions (such as the robbery, which lasts 25 minutes), but Melville runs through his story a series of subtle, deliberate and disorienting situations that give the film an almost dreamy atmosphere, with the help of Henri Decaë’s magnificent photography and its blue metallic tones. The red circle of the title is the figure of death that, with the symmetrical dynamics of betrayal and deception, overshadows the fates of the characters: two criminals united by an unspoken, accidental friendship, Corey (Delon) who is just out of jail, and Vogel (Volonté) who is on the run from the cops, and an ex-police sniper, Jansen (Montand), removed from the force due to alcoholism. Their enemy, Commissioner Mattei, is also marked by a cold solitude, living in a house with only his many cats for company. Bourvil (who was severely ill and died at the end of filming) played the role with a Machiavellian cynicism that is so different from his usual good-natured and comic acting style. There is an unforgettable hallucinatory sequence in which Jansen’s alcoholic delirium takes on the repulsive and invasive forms of insects and reptiles, echoing Faulkner and Poe. Italian distribution cut 26 minutes from the film, mostly trimming sequences where Mattei appeared alone. It was Melville’s greatest box-office success, both in France and abroad, and it inspired many filmmakers of the following generations, from John Woo to Walter Hill, from Michael Mann to Quentin Tarantino. The film is also linked to one of the last acts of the soured relationship be- tween Melville and his former protégé, Jean-Luc Godard, who wrote an article fiercely criticising Le Cercle rouge, hiding behind the pseudonym of a heretic burned alive in the 16th century.