Le Cercle Rouge: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

February 10, 2015 7 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

Most nights at my house I find myself watching crime films or reading crime novels. I don’t know what it is about a great crime book or film: the clothing, the drinking, the tough dialogue, or the often-fatal twists that seem to happen on the dime. I love them. It may stem from my parents having a friend named Lee Duschoff who gave me a copy of Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls at the tender age of ten or eleven. Regardless of the reason, I can not get enough of it, and the grittier the better. Chandler, Hammett, and Thompson are just a few of my heroes, and after watching Le Cercle Rouge, I think it is easy to add Melville to that elite list. I have heard of famous directors cutting a few frames off of each camera transition to try to keep their movies running briskly and accomplish the end game quickly. If you are considering watching the film, you should know going in that Melville likes the slow play. Melville lets the scenes come to a natural end, focusing more on the minutiae of the scene and building far more suspense than the average director would build with ten times the body count.

The plot of the film involves three intersecting lives. Corey (an always enigmatic Alain Delon) once released from prison robs his former employer who also happens to be sleeping with his old flame. Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte) has just escaped from Le Commissaire Mattei (Bourvil) in an excellently paced scene involving a train. Through the sheer coincidence they meet one another. They decide to team up with one another to rob one of the best jewelers in Paris, all while they are being hunted down by mobsters and policemen alike.

I could say a lot more about the plot but I don’t feel that I can reveal much more without hurting the movie itself. I would be remiss to not mention that the acting in the film is fantastic. You would recognize Gian maria Volonte from his turn in A Fistful of Dollars or from the (also released by Criterion) An Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. Alain Delon is perfect in the role of Corey. He doesn’t make himself nearly as cool as he was in Le Samourai, but the performance is still a great one. Also, Yves Montand turns in a solid performance as Jansen, a sharpshooter trying to fight some old demons.

Video: How’s it look?

Criterion does a stellar job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec. The film itself seems to be in fantastic shape. The only sign of crush was in the very first minute or so of the film right after the opening poem. After that small flare up the picture quality is absolutely perfect. Visually, I found this transfer to be almost as impressive as the transfer of the Terence Malick flick, Badlands.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Audio is presented in a French LPCM Mono track. The mix itself although relegated to the two front channels was strangely immersive. The beats of the drums in the club scene are particularly fantastic. Turning the sound all the way up does reveal some slight hiss, but nothing out of the ordinary for a release from this time, and no surprise considering how much that Melville dubbed in post production. Audiophiles will be very pleased with the track.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Excerpts from Cinéastes de notre temps: “Jean-Pierre Melville”This feature runs roughly thirty minutes and is an excellent feature. The film’s original features are a bit spotty, but the information presented sheds a ton of light on Melville’s process.
  • New video interviews with assistant director Bernard Stora and Rui Nogueria, the author of Melville on Melville I found the interview with Stora to be the best feature on the disk. His insight into the director and his process was absolutely fascinating. If I saw this guy on the street I would buy him a meal just to hear him reminisce. The stories with Rui Nogueria are good, but fall short of Stora.
  • Thirty minutes of rare on-set and archival footage, featuring interviews with director Jean-Pierre Melville and stars Alain Delon, Yves Montand, and André Bourvil – The archival footage is fun to watch and I enjoyed watching the cast smoke a million cigarettes.
  • Original theatrical trailer and 2003 Rialto Pictures rerelease trailer
  • Production and publicity stills, poster gallery (DVD only) – This feature is not available on the Blu Ray
  •  A booklet featuring new essays by film critics Michael Sragow and Chris Fujiwara, excerpts from Melville on Melville, a reprinted interview with composer Eric Demarsan, and an appreciation from director John Woo

The Bottom Line

The film Le Cercle Rouge is a true film. It is also a great movie. It manages to be a perfect piece of art and also works as a great heist picture and crime film. To say that I love this movie would be an understatement. Criterion does an excellent job with the material providing great supplements and damn near perfect video and audio. Unfortunately, right now this movie is out of print. If you are curious about if the film itself is fantastic, it is viewable on Hulu thanks to Studio Canal. From that you should be able to make an informed decision on if you want to spend the dough to pick it up. I will say that it comes with my very highest recommendation, and that this is easily one of the best Criterion Collection films I have seen so far.

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