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Jean-Pierre Melville’s

3:15   8:30

Must End Thursday, May 18

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Starring Alain Delon, Yves Montand, Gian Maria Volontè and Bourvil

(1970) Impassive faces, snap-brim hats, dangling cigarettes, sunglasses after dark, raincoats without rain, nightclub floor shows, and a prologue quote from an ersatz Indian mystic: “When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever their diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the Red Circle.” We’re unmistakably in the milieu of Jean-Pierre Melville, doyen of the New Wave and prince of the fate-haunted French gangster picture (Le Doulas, Bob Le Flamer, Le Samourai), here, for his final work in the genre (“a digest of all the thriller-type films I have made”) bringing together four archetypal homes durs for their appointment with destiny: prisoner-in-transit Gian Maria Volonte, crashing (literally) out of the train that’s taking him from Marseilles to Paris, to the dismay of his police escort, the relentless Inspector Mattei (played by French comedy legend Bourvil, cast against type for his final role); ex-cop Yves Montand, moving from hopeless DT-plagued drunk to dapper, rock-steady sharpshooter; and Alain Delon – both art film super-star (for Antonioni and Visconti, among others) and action anti-hero (most memorably as Melville’s taciturn Samouraï) – on his first day out of the joint reclaiming gun and money, and shrugging off two murder attempts. All join forces for a meticulously-orchestrated heist of a Place Vendôme bijouterie (“choreographed like a bullfight with Delon the matador in white gloves and full-face mask” - J. Hoberman), a silent tour-de-force in the grand movie tradition of Rififi, Topkapi, and The Asphalt Jungle. A smash hit in France (it was the biggest success of the director’s career), in this country Le Cercle Rouge was released (barely) in a dubbed version shorn of 40 minutes. Here is the complete, uncut version – in French (with subtitles by Lenny Borger) – with its noirishly muted color cinematography by Melville/New Wave lenser Henri Decaë (Le Samouraï, The 400 Blows, Elevator to the Gallows, Purple Noon, etc. etc.) more vivid than ever. DCP restoration. Approx. 140 min.


“The closest Jean-Pierre Melville got to his ideal, a mix of Jacques Becker’s Le Trou and Bresson’s Pickpocket, a blue-gray nocturnal reconnoitering of the flimsy chains keeping men in their place… Melville’s finest work of post-war privateering... revels in the silent concentration, the unyielding focus of lost boys out to reshape a changing landscape of cops, robbers and cowards into the perfect symmetrical object they know it could be.”
– Scout Tafoya, Brooklyn Magazine

“An existentialist noir painted with the cold hues of grey, blue and green where the only warm touch is the red of blood, of death. Dialogues are reduced to a minimum as Melville displays his iconographic mastery throughout having condensed noir into an immanent palette where images are more expressive words.”
– Mubi

“The kind of experience that makes you glad movies exist.”
– A.O. Scott, The New York Times

“A virtuoso display of the geometry of movie action.”
– The New Yorker

“Choreographed like a bullfight with Delon the matador in white gloves and full-face mask.”
– J. Hoberman

“Only Melville could recreate this strange universe of unreal images, of misty landscapes.”
– Jean Tulard, Guide des Films

“Darker, more abstract and desolate than his earlier work, this shows, set piece by set piece, the breakdown of the criminal code under which Melville’s characters had previously operated.” 
– Time Out (London)

“A digest of all the thriller-type films I have made.”
– Jean-Pierre Melville

Film Forum