‘Le Cercle Rouge’ on Criterion Channel

Crime cinema has never been so meticulously and coolly executed as in Le cercle rouge (France, 1970).

Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1970 heist classic stars Alain Delon and Gian Maria Volonte as coolly professional thieves, Yves Montand as a soused sharpshooter who regains his self-respect when he joins their team, and Andre Bouvril as the unrelenting cop on their trail.

This is Melville’s world of romantic doom, an irresistible cinema fantasy of loyalty, professionalism, sacrifice, and codes of honor in a rarefied world of classy, uncompromising crooks and Le Cercle Rouge is perhaps the ultimate expression of this universe: a world of men without women where cops and criminals are locked in a symbiotic co-existence.

Melville’s most austere work strips even the characters down to the essence of their professionalism and their integrity. But if the film lacks the emotional connection of Bob Le Flambeur or the tantalizing irony of Le Samourai, its doomed underworld perfection is, well, perfect.

Not rated, in French with English subtitles

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Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Le Cercle Rouge (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Le Cercle Rouge (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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The Criterion Blu-ray and DVD special editions include excerpts from the 1970 documentary “Cinéastes de notres temps: Jean-Pierre Melville (portrait en 9 poses),” video interviews with Melville friend and editor of “Melville on Melville” Rui Nogueira and with “Le Cercle Rouge” assistant director Bernard Stora, 30 minutes of rare on-set footage featuring interviews with director Melville, and stars Alain Delon, Yves Montand, and André Bourvil, archival French television interview footage with Jean-Pierre Melville and Alain Delon, and original and 2002 rerelease trailers. The 24 page booklet features with new essays by Michael Sragow, Chris Fujiwara, and John Woo, excerpts from an interview with composer Eric Demarsan, and excerpts from Rui Nogueira’s interview book with the director, “Melville on Melville.”

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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