Review: Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle, 1970)


So much atmosphere I drowned five minutes into the movie!

Written By: Jean-Pierre Melville
Directed By: Jean-Pierre Melville

There are movies that try to be cool and then there are movies that are just cool. I once said the same thing when discussing a Sergio Leone movie, and I’m bringing it out again to discuss a Jean-Pierre Melville film. There’s no two ways around it, Le Cercle Rouge is cool through and through. It’s not just cool in its presentation, but it is also cool in its attitude and it is subliminally cool. What do I mean by subliminally, I’m talking coloring. Blue is the ultimate in cool, everyone knows that and Le Cercle Rouge is bathed in the color blue. The movie is tinted blue, the music has a calmer blues vibe to it, blue is cool and Le Cercle Rouge is the epitome of cool.

Beyond the cool factor Melville shows a wonderful eye for layering and structuring his shots. Take the dog sniffing scene, it’s obvious how that scene needs to play out, but Melville achieves the end result so effortlessly that it is startling. His camera moves slowly, but it builds tension, the score only comes into effect in suspenseful moments such as this one, and finally the camera comes to Vogel, Vogel doesn’t come to the camera. This gives the illusion that the world is closing in on Vogel, that his time is running out. We know he will escape, but it’s the journey that matters, not the end result.

The journey of Le Cercle Rouge is at the heart of the picture. This is a world of men who trust each other, yet they are all inherently evil. Corey has no reason to trust that Vogel will come out of the trunk to help him with the gangsters, yet he trusts him. Le Cercle Rouge is a movie of coincidence and fate, that is why it is all about the journey. The end result is known to us, what matters are the steps that take us to the ultimate fate of the characters involved. This is only possible because we become endeared to the relationships of the characters in Le Cercle Rouge. Whether it is Vogel, Mattei, Jansen or Corey we care about each and every one of them and their place in this world.

There is a trend in suspense driven flicks that you have to hurry, that people don’t have time for depth, that you need to get to the point right away. Melville wants to show you that this isn’t the case at all. His characters are given the time to grow, their growth is shown to us over time. However, Melville realizes that some things need to be fast and decisive. The violence in Le Cercle Rouge isn’t elaborate, it happens, it’s a part of life. The same is true of the actual heist, it is cool, but it isn’t focused on, it’s something that needs to happen and so it happens. Melville gives you the time to develop a relationship with the characters but he makes sure you realize that things do happen fast and indecisive fashion in the world of Le Cercle Rouge.

Easily my favorite aspect of Le Cercle Rouge was the lack of dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, dialogue can be awesome, and it is awesome when used in Le Cercle Rouge. But, just as much can be expressed in silence as can be expressed vocally. The audience is smart enough to infer what a silent meeting between Mattei and the mob boss entails, we don’t need to hear what they are actually saying. Le Cercle Rouge is not afraid to remain silent and let the audience figure out what is happening for themselves, and I love the movie for that.

Le Cercle Rouge is a film that deserves its place in the list of all-time great movies. It is a movie of ultimate cool, bathed in the light of coolness. There are plenty of movies that are cool and what separates Le Cercle Rouge is that it’s cool and features quality film making. Excellent set design, writing, cinematography, shot selection and use of score. Le Cercle Rouge is a movie that blew me away, because I had forgotten that movies could be this well made and cool at the same time, go ahead and discover the quality cool for yourself, you won’t regret it.





2 responses to “Review: Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle, 1970)

  1. I like how you pointed out the lack of dialogue. Indeed, that makes the movie all the more ‘cool’ as you would say. Great sense of atmosphmere and tone throughout the film. It also has one of the best wtf moments, if you don’t know why it’s occuring (the hallucination scene). If you haven’t seen Le Samourai, I’d suggest you watch that Melville film also.

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