- Apr 24, 2006
- Charlotte, NC
- Real Name
- Matt Hough
Le Cercle Rouge (Blu-ray)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 140 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 French
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: April 12, 2011
Review Date: April 6, 2011
The films noir of the legendary filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville kept that genre alive and kicking long after American filmmakers had abandoned it. Le Cercle Rouge, his penultimate film, is one of his greatest. Forget that it was filmed in color. The crooks and cops scenario, the famous bank heist that climaxes the movie, and its terrific quartet of actors who make great antiheroes scream noir from beginning to end. In fact, in its own unique way, it’s a sort of French color version of John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, and one can’t do better than that.
On the day he’s released from a five year stretch in prison, Corey (Alain Delon) sees a man who turns out to be an escaped prisoner Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté) slip into the trunk of his car in order to escape the manhunt that’s currently underway for him. Having visited his former trusted boss Rico (André Ekyan) who’s stolen his girl while he was in prison, Corey takes a large sum of money from him and kills one of his henchmen, so now Corey himself is on the lam. He and Vogel decide to team up to pull one big job that will allow them to make lives for themselves elsewhere, and to do this, they go to recovering alcoholic Jansen (Yves Montand) who’s knowledgeable about surveillance equipment and the jewelry they want to steal and later fence. But there is always the constant threat of Captain Mattei (André Bourvil) who’s relentless in tracking the escaped Vogel and will stop at nothing to get him.
Jean-Pierre Melville’s screenplay is awash in a cynical tone which all crime dramas at the time were beginning to embrace. (The Oscar-winning The French Connection of the next year is a fine example.) The police here are as ruthless as the crooks as both sides play dirty to achieve their ends, and no one, even the otherwise sweet-natured Mattei who treats his four cats as if they’re his children, has clean hands. (In fact, Paul Amiot as the Chief of Internal Affairs tells Mattei that all men are basically scoundrels.) The film’s set piece, of course, is the twenty-five minute heist sequence, as carefully constructed and executed as the ones in Rififi or Topkapi or Gambit, where in virtual silence apart from dripping faucets, a ticking clock, and ambient street sounds, the three experts maneuver around state-of-the-art electronic antitheft beams to lift the jewelry worth 20 million francs. But Melville scores an even greater coup in beautifully picturing Jensen’s DT’s which far surpasses what Billy Wilder did to Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend. It’s a disturbing sequence beautifully acted and shot (although Montand’s Jensen does seem to conquer his shakes rather too quickly later on in the movie).
The actors are all aces in these roles. Alain Delon was born to play bad boys, and he’s irresistibly charismatic in a low key role. André Bourvil, a music hall star cast against type as the dogged detective, plays a wonderful mix of contrasting character traits while Yves Montand, another music hall star who had long since proved his effectiveness as an actor as long as he’s performing in his native French, makes the world-weary dandy eager to prove he still has what it takes the film’s most likable character. Gian Maria Volonté is gruff and taciturn as the desperate Vogel, and Francois Périer as Santi, the man who’s the key to the film’s resolution, has a few very effective moments of his own.
The movie’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. With color dialed down just a bit to suggest the film’s rather grim tone, color saturation levels are consistently delivered. Flesh tones appear accurate, and black levels are first-rate. Sharpness is superb in all of the interior scenes, but there are occasional exterior shots which seem softer and less well defined. None of the telltale signs of age such as scratches or debris are present at all. The white subtitles are very easy to read, and the film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (2.3 Mbps) audio track is very impressive despite its age. Dialogue, music (both original score and a couple of on-stage cabaret numbers at Santi’s club), and sound effects (especially effective during the heist sequence) have very good resonance. Only in the quietest scenes does one hear the faintest traces of hiss, but for a film of this age, the lack of overriding aural artifacts is something of a miracle.
All of the video bonus features are delivered in 1080i.
Five vintage television programs provide sound bites and/or behind the scenes glimpses of the filming of the movie.
- “Cinéastes de Notre Temps” offers 27 ¼ minutes detailing the director and his work habits from his job running his own studio to editing his films, and information about his preferring solitude to large groups around him. This TV profile on the director was filmed in 1971 after the release of Le Cercle Rouge.
- “Poul le Cuena” features interviews with Melville as well as Alain Delon and Yves Montand talking about their characters and the movie in this 5 ¼-minute excerpt filmed in 1970.
- “Midi Magazine” is another 1970 TV interview with Delon and Melville interviewed on the set during shooting. It runs 4 ½ minutes.
- “Vingt-quatre Heures sur la Deux” finds French interviewer France Roche asking questions of Melville and Delon on a 1970 talk show. It runs 3 ¾ minutes.
- “Morceux de Bravonire” is a 1973 profile of the director (shortly before his unexpected death) discussing the influence of The Asphalt Jungle and other American films on his style. It runs 9 ¾ minutes.
French director Bernard Stora who worked as assistant director on this film tells many stories about working with the legendary director Jean-Pierre Melville, his personal and professional habits, his relationships with actors, and his imposing personality in this entertaining and informative 30 ¼-minute video interview filmed in 2003.
Rui Nogueira, who wrote the book Melville on Melville, talks about his experiences with the famous director in another very informative and fascinating video interview filmed in 2003 and running for 26 ¼ minutes.
Two theatrical trailers are offered. The original trailer runs 2 minutes as does the 2003 re-release trailer for the film.
The enclosed 26-page booklet contains cast and crew lists, some moodily tinted stills, film historian Michael Sragow’s glowing appreciation for the movie, an excerpt from Rui Nogueira’s Melville book pertaining to the director’s opinions about the picture, a brief interview with composer Eric Demarsan, critic Chris Fujiwara’s examination of the film’s title in respect to the story, and director John Woo’s brief written tribute to the movie.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
One of the greatest of the films of Jean-Pierre Melville and one of his biggest hits, Le Cercle Rouge comes to Blu-ray with superb picture and sound and all of the previous bonus material which made its DVD release so special. Highly recommended!