Gian Maria Volonté
This is that red circle, occupied by three doomed souls: Corey (Alain Delon), fresh out of prison; recent escapee Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté); and an ex-policeman with a habit for the bottle (Yves Montand). At the center of the circle is a “no risk” job--though there’s never such a thing. Not in Jean-Pierre Melville’s cinema.
Le cercle rouge (1970), Melville’s penultimate film (he died just three years after at age 55), is exactly what a genre picture needs to be to stand out: smart. It’s reminiscent of Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1955), another classic of the genre that no doubt inspired Melville’s own 30-minute robbery. The film simmers slowly, using every second of its 140-minute running time to build the suspense in an unnerving quiet.
This is what made Melville a master. His films, the best of which involve gangsters, capers and pure stoicism, are so calculated and precise in their execution. There is no need (or budget, really) for the loud and overbearing gunplay, exaggerated chase scenes or costly explosions--all cheats for excitement--that bust their way into American movies.
Le cercle rouge is the heist film done right. No gun is fired without cause. No line of dialogue is spoken without reason. No frame is shown that should have been cut. It is skillful and without misstep--an example of what the genre can and should be.
Pour le cinema (5:19): Originally aired in March 1970, this episode of the French series contains interviews with Melville, as well as actors Alain Delon, Yves Montand and Bourvil conducted on the set of Le cercle rouge.
Midi magazine (4:37): This episode of the French television series first aired in May 1970 and has Melville and Delon discussing Le cercle rouge, with the latter concluding that, “I know exactly what Melville wants and expects from me, and I think I give it to him.”
Vingt-quatre heures sur la deux (3:43): Originally aired in October 1970, this footage also has the director and Delon fielding questions about the film, this time from host France Roche.
Morceauz de bravura (9:49): These excerpts from the French series, which aired in May 1973 (three months before Melville’s death) and was directed by Jean-Paul Sassy, has Melville talking about his influences (Asphalt Jungle, Odds Against Tomorrow), his characters and more. Also included are clips from Le cercle rouge.
Bernard Stora (30:14): Recorded in 2003, assistant director Stora sits down to discuss a number of topics on Melville, including the first time they met, the director’s admiration for America, his habit as a night owl, the “Melville system,” and much more.
Rui Nogueira (26:14): Here, the author of 1971’s Melville on Melville sits down with film historian Robert Fischer for an interview conducted in 2003.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 24-page booklet with an essay titled “Great Blasphemies” by film critic/author Michael Sragow, an excerpt from Melville on Melville, an interview with composer Eric Demarsan, and an essay titled “What is the Red Circle?” by film critic/author Chris Fujiwara, and a tribute from director John Woo.