For Reel

Le cercle rouge (1970)
May 25, 2011, 4:44 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

The centerpiece of Le cercle rouge – a silent, thirty minute heist sequence – exemplifies Melville’s familiar God-like objectivity in dealing with crime. In a series of long takes, the audience is led to admire the precision of the gangster craft. To Melville, this is dance.

Using familiar elements from all of his earlier gangster pictures, Le cercle rouge is again a film about the gangster code of ethics. Corey protects the intruding escaped convict Jansen – who has hidden in his trunk – from an investigator, feeling a kinship and perhaps admiration for someone who not only served a sentence in prison, but has daringly escaped from it. Later, the character of Santi expresses an unwillingness to snitch, which is, from as early as Bob le flambeur, the biggest sin a Melvillian gangster can commit. Ironically, only in a few occasions do they actually inform, despite such anxieties contributing to much of the suspense in each of the pictures.

If the film has one shortcoming, it is in the character of Jansen. Played by the legendary Yves Montand, his introduction into the film is an absurd hallucinatory sequence involving a series of tormenting creatures who crawl on him as he suffers in a drunken stupor. While Montand’s performance in the latter part of the film is effectively conceived, this sequence – which ultimately serves to contrast with Jansen’s redemption near the end of the picture – is a baffling tangent in an otherwise wholly understated effort.