1970, Movies

Le Cercle Rouge (1970, Jean-Pierre Melville)

Apparently when this film was first released in North America, 41 minutes were cut from it and it was kind of incomprehensible. Fortunately at some point the full version became available.


This is an extremely minimalist heist film in terms of dialogue and music but which is very deliberately paced. That shouldn’t put you off, as Melville knows what he’s doing when it comes to tension; the heist is worth the wait.

Imagine if Ocean’s 11 was Ocean’s 3 and three burglars met each other by chance and you get some idea as to the plot of this movie. Melville spends a ton of time just setting up their joining forces – this is not done by montage – and, if you didn’t read the description, you might wonder if that was actually the plot of the movie. But no, there is a heist. Eventually. And, because of the film’s minimalist approach to sound, that heist is pretty gripping.

As with many of these movies the problem for the characters is really in the fencing of the theft. And it’s here where there’s a little bit of a need for suspension of disbelief. Basically, we wonder if such worldly men would be conned into the sting. And because that happens at the end of what is otherwise a pretty well made but idiosyncratic heist film, it leaves a bit of a poor taste in the mouth when really we should be impressed.

But I still quite liked this. It has all of Melville’s hallmarks in terms of the dress of the characters and their behaviour. It’s well shot and edited. And it is unique among heist films (as far as I know) for how it handles the “let’s assemble a team” sequence. I don’t know of any films, anyway, in which three jewels thieves meet this way. If you’re a fan of Melville, it’s worth watching, provided you get the full 140 minute version.


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