Watching: Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
The words ‘French cinema’ still conjure up images of high-brow conversations at middle class dinner parties, which is really frustrating. The best French movies are as cool and accessible as anything us Brits knock out. If you want a good starting point, check out Le Cercle Rouge.
It’s Euro crime at its finest. Except this isn’t Euro crime in the current trashy hipster sense. This is Euro crime done intelligently and with style. Yes, people die, but not as many as you might expect. The plot is the real star of this super-cool Jean-Pierre Melville flick.
It is one story, but it’s as many as four (or more) stories, all colliding around a single event, but all with something in common. The lead in this movie is Alain Delon as Corey, fresh out of prison and with a job lined up courtesy of a prison warder. That job is a jewellery store grab. But he needs help to do it.
Corey is soon to be pursued by the henchmen of Paris’ Mr Big, known as Rico, who put him in prison in the first place. An ill-judged hold up at the big man’s house sees to that. He’s not the only one of the run either. Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté) has escaped from the law in a moving train and is being chased by half the force through the French countryside. Which is where he accidentally meets Corey.
Holed up in Paris, the two discuss the robbery, bringing in another man on the run, Jansen (Yves Montand ). He’s running away from the demons of drink. Quite literally (see the movie to find out what that means). He’s the marksmen the pair need to do the job, an ex-police crack shot no less. In the end, the job seems the easy part. Getting away from both sides of the law on their back is the tricky bit.
As I hinted above, Le Cercle Rouge isn’t your average hard hitting crime flick. Yes, it has its moments on that front, but there’s so much more depth here. The story slowly develops the characters central to the plot, whilst still leaving a little to the imagination. As the credits role, you realise you’ve seen Delon’s character on screen for over two hours and still know very little about him. Dialogue is sparse too. In fact, not a word is uttered during the long jewel theft scene. It doesn’t need it. The imagery does it all.
The ending is telegraphed some time from the closing credits, but you sense the outcome almost from the start. There’s no happy ending here. Not unlike Get Carter, if you want a Brit flick comparison.
But what you do get is a film that works your brain and is incredibly good on the eye. There’s a good dose of the classic American crime movie in here, but this is very much a French crime thriller. A very stylish one too. If you’re looking for a good starting point for classic French cinema, Le Cercle Rouge could be it.
You’ll be shopping for a trench coat and trilby in no time.
Le Cercle Rouge is available to buy on Blu-ray.