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  • Culture

    Step into Melville’s noir drenched world of fatalistic heroes and smooth criminals

    By Vincent Hanon 07 September 2018

    JEAN-Pierre Melville only made thirteen full length films during his 25 year long career. Jean-Pierre Grumbach (1917-1973) adopted his name after the American author Herman Melville, and entered the French Resistance to oppose the German Nazis during World War II.

    Often considered the father of the Nouvelle Vague, the king of the French film policier influenced Martin Scorcese, John Woo, Michael Mann and Jim Jarmush.

    Arguably his five best films are Bob Le Flambeur (1956), Le Doulos (1962), Le Samourai (1967), The Army Of Shadows (1969) and Le Cercle Rouge’ (1970).

    His second-to-last picture The Cercle Rouge is the perfect heist movie. Filmed under the atmospheric, but never overstylistic, grey skies of Paris, between Place Vendôme and La Conciergerie, the film explores the thin line between gangsters and cops, with a stylish and straight forward plot.

    Everyone is cool, and one can sympathise with all the characters, no matter what side of the law they are on. ‘All men are guilty. They’re born innocents, but it doesn’t lastsays the chief of the police. There is no irrevelant dialouge in Le Cercle Rouge, characters only speak when they have something to say, like in the suspenseful and spectacular thirty minute jewellery robbery scene which is totally silent.

    For the actor who played Le Commissaire Mattei, this would be the last role for André Bourvil, who became known for his roles in comedy films with Louis de Funès including Don’t Look Now, We’re Being Shot At ! (a box office record in France until Titanic in 1997.)

    This top all male cast also stars Alain Delon as the recently released criminal Corey, the Italian actor Gian Maria Volonte as the escaping crook Vogel, and the great Yves Montand who delivers one of his best performances ever as Jansen, an ex-cop full of addictions and doubts.

    With a dream soundtrack by Eric Demarsan, this elegant, minimalist and nihilist film takes inspiration from the gangster movies of the 50’s (especially John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle).

    Le Cercle Rouge is a timeless noir French classic that deals with the tragedy of fate, while its title derives from a Buddhist quote. ‘The divergent paths of unknowing men will come together inside The Red Circle.’