Le Cercle Rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville – 1970) A

Crooks cross paths coincidentally and set off on executing a jewelry heist at a store in Paris’ Place Vendome. I specify Place Vendom because it is important, it is quintessentailly French and Parisienne and so is this film. The men wear trench coats and fedoras, meet at cabarets, smoke Gitanes, have piercing looks and never, ever smile. Crooks or cops, they live by their own code and honor (can you make a mob-connected cabaret owner an informant if it is not “in his nature”? Maybe, but it will not be easy). I love it all. I could not help but compare this to a dozen other modern caper flicks, Ocean’s 11 comes to mind. I had no doubt that Danny Ocean and his slick crew will accomplish their goal and get away with it. And that was fun. In Mellville’s movie, I was never sure Corey and his two-man team will get anywhere even close to the Jewelry shop. Planning? we hardly see any of that either. What we get are long stretches of dialogue free “action” where so  much is communicated between men who just “know” what needs to be done. We also get that engrossing noir mood which is after all what a good noir is all about. Le Cercle Rouge does not only deal with interesting crooks here but also a fantastic character in the form of Le Commissaire Mattei, the patient and cool cop on their tracks who happens to be the equivelant of “the cat lady” in the privacy of his own apartment. Such details fill the movie and are not really needed for any form of plot, they are there because they make for a richer character, a person with a life other than that of catching criminals.

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