Le Cercle Rouge

No place to hide . . . nowhere to run . . .

Thriller Crime
140 min     7.623     1970     France


When French criminal Corey gets released from prison, he resolves to never return. He is quickly pulled back into the underworld, however, after a chance encounter with escaped murderer Vogel. Along with former policeman and current alcoholic Jansen, they plot an intricate jewel heist. All the while, quirky Police Commissioner Mattei, who was the one to lose custody of Vogel, is determined to find him.


CRCulver wrote:
Jean-Pierre Meville's 1970 film Le Cercle rouge (The Red Circle) is a crime caper based on the interplay of several initially unacquainted individuals. As Melville's fake quote from the Buddha that serves as the intertitle goes, "When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the red circle." These men are Corey (Alain Delon), who has just been released from prison, Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté), who has escaped from his police guard before he could even reach prison, and the alcoholic marksman Jansen (Yves Montand). In the jewelry heist that these desparate lowlifes plan together, they are pursued by the detective Mattei (André Bourvil). Meville's pacing is extremely slow – it has to be in order to ensure that the audience understands the complex relationships of who knows who – and suffice it to say, people who don't already like mid-century French auteur films may find this intolerable. However, if you are a fan of the French New Wave, you may find Meville's ability to sustain suspense a delicious torture. This viewer was on the edge of his seat the whole time waiting to find out what would happen next. Melville's visual aesthetic is also consistently attractive: muted colours, careful shots of the characters faces at a couple of key moments, and a striking constrast between the quiet world of these criminals and the bustle of everyday Paris. I must admit that I was prepared for some disappointment, as this was Meville's third film of criminal conspiracy in three years (preceded by the hitman drama Le Samouraï and the French Resistance saga L'Armée des ombres). However, in spite of Meville's continued interest in the genre, Le Cercle rouge offers something fresh and individual. There are a couple of intertextual looks back to Le Samouraï in the sets, but Meville shows how talented his favourite actors were by having a couple of good guys in that film play baddies in this one and vice versa. All in all, this is not a must-see, life-changing film, but certainly a classic film that has stood the test of time and well worth seeing.