Le Cercle Rouge – Criterion UHD Blu-ray Review

4.5 Stars Melville neo-noir classic debuts on UHD
le cercle rouge screenshot

When fighting alongside the French Resistance in WWII, Jean-Pierre Grumbach adopted a pseudonym that paid tribute to his favorite American author. When the war ended, Jean-Pierre Melville kept the stage name and – after making his debut as an independent filmmaker with Le Silence de la mer (The Silence of the Sea) in 1949 – proceeded to become the spiritual father of the French New Wave starting with Bob le flambeur (1956). Over the rest of his career, he became known for a minimalist style of film noir, of which his penultimate film Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle) is a prime example of that minimalism. Criterion previously released the film on DVD and Blu-ray, but the company has revisited the film for its UHD Blu-ray debut.

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
Released: 20 Oct 1970
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 140 min
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Cast: Alain Delon, Bourvil, Gian Maria Volontè
Writer(s): Jean-Pierre Melville
Plot: After leaving prison, master thief Corey crosses paths with a notorious escapee and an alcoholic former policeman. The trio proceed to plot an elaborate heist.
IMDB rating: 7.9
MetaScore: 91

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: Criterion Collection
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: French 1.0 PCM (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 20 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: Clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 03/15/2022
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 4.5/5

After master thief Corey (Alain Delon) is released from a Marseille prison, he decides to follow up on a tip – provided to him by a prison warden – on a high-end jewelry shop in Paris that could net him huge profit in a robbery. Along the way, he also crosses paths with the notorious fugitive Vogel (Gian Maria Volontè), who is quickly brought into the scheme along with Jensen (Yves Montand), a former cop and sharpshooter who has turned to the liquor bottle. What this ragtag trio doesn’t know is that Inspector Mattei (André Bouvril) is relentlessly on their trail and one of Corey’s former associates wants vengeance against the master thief. All roads lead to a country house where the trio’s big score could end up being their undoing…

One of the most iconic movies of Jean-Pierre Melville’s career, Le Cercle Rouge is a taut and lean neo-noir that pays tribute to its predecessors. Following in the footsteps of the golden age of American film noir as well as French counterparts like Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1955), Melville charts the film’s own course with its minimalist yet no less effective set up and execution of the plot, which runs like clockwork. The film’s most impressive accomplishments here are the cool cinematography by Henri Decaë and the climatic jewelry store heist sequence, taking up around a half hour and done in near complete silence. If there’s only one true complaint about the film, it’s that for a long time here in America, the movie was released in truncated versions – until Criterion’s DVD release in 2003 – that only hinted at, but never showed the true power of Melville’s power as a filmmaker here. Mix in top notch performances and direction an Le Cercle Rouge is one of the greatest French crime thrillers of all time, done to a fare thee well by a master of the introspective crime thriller.

Relatively fresh off of a sojourn in Hollywood – which found him falling back into the Latin lover roles he was trying to escape from in films like Texas Across the River (1966) – Alain Delon has one of his career best performances as the master thief Corey; the same year as this movie, he had another plum part in Borsalino. Having already achieved international success in Spaghetti westerns like A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Gian Maria Volontè plays well as the escaped fugitive turned heist partner Vogel; like Delon, he too had a plum part in another movie – this one being a career best for him – as the crooked and murderous police inspector in Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. Yves Montand lends great support as the former cop who sobers up to take part in the heist, while André Bouvril is a welcome presence as the calm and determined inspector on the trio’s tail throughout the movie. Filling out the cast here are Andre Ekyan as the vengeful Rico, Paul Crauchet as the jewelry fence, Pierre Collet as the prison guard who clues in Corey on the big score in Paris, Paul Amiot as the Chief of Internal Affairs, Jean-Pierre Posier as Mattei’s assistant and François Périer as the nightclub owner Santi, who knows everyone in the underworld but squeals on no one.

 

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The uncut 140-minute version of the film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K restoration performed by Studiocanal for this release; on the UHD Blu-ray disc, the film is presented in Dolby Vision HDR, while the Blu-ray accompanying this release presents the movie in HD SDR. The overall visual presentation exhibits a faithful representation of color palette and fine details with little to no cases of scratches, dirt, tears or vertical lines present here. This release is very likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily bests all previous incarnations on home video.

Audio: 5/5

The original soundtrack is presented on a PCM track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Eric Demarsan’s music score are all faithfully presented here with minimal instances of distortion, crackling, hissing or popping present. This release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and is also an improvement over previous home video releases of the movie.

Special Features: 4/5

Jean-Pierre Melville: Portrait in 9 Poses (27:20) – An episode of the 1970 French TV series Filmmakers of Our Time (Cinéastes de notre temps) chronicling the director and his career.

2003 interview with assistant director Bernard Stora (30:14) – The film’s assistant director shares his memories of meeting and working with the famed director in the archival interview carried over from the previous Criterion DVD and Blu-ray releases.

2003 interview with Melville author Rui Noguera (26:14) – The author of Melville on Melville talks about his memories of interviewing the director for his book in this archival interview, also carried over from the previous Criterion DVD and Blu-ray releases of the movie.

On-set footage – Melville, Alain Delon, André Bouvril and Yves Montand are interviewed on-set in an excerpt from a 1970 episode of Pour le cinema (5:26) while Melville is the sole focus of the excerpt of the behind-the-scenes episode of Midi Magazine from 1970 (4:44).

Archival footage – Melville is interviewed in these two archival excerpts: first, there’s one excerpt from an episode of Vingt-quatre heures sur la deux from 1971 (3:51) and there’s the excerpt from the episode of Morceaux de bravoure from 1973 (9:55).

Theatrical Trailer (1:54)

Booklet feat. essays by critics Michael Sragow and Chris Fujiwara, excerpts from Noguera’s book Melville on Melville, a 2000 interview with composer Eric Demarsan and an appreciation by director John Woo

Overall: 4.5/5

Popular with French audiences and winning over critics on both sides of the Atlantic, Le Cercle Rouge is a lasting testament of Jean-Pierre Melville’s power as one of the filmmaking godfathers of the French New Wave. Criterion has bested all of their previous releases of the movie with a terrific HD transfer while carrying over all previous special releases. Very highly recommended.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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