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Uri Klein, the film critic of Ha’Aretz chose to open yesterday his short presentation of Jean-Pierre Melville‘s Le Circle Rouge (The Red Circle) with a short appearance of the director in Godard‘s Au Bout de Souffle. Melville is in this sequence Parvulesco, an exiled Romanian writer, answering in the Orly airport to questions posed by journalists among which young and beautiful Patricia (Jean Seaberg). We see him as maybe he was in real life, detached, amused, preoccupied more by the pleasures of life and by women than by existential questions, a little bit like a visitor playing a role of observer of the world around.

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Melville whom we can see in a real interview in the sequence above talking in 1970 about his fascination for cinema was indeed a strange appearance in the landscape of the French cinema. Born in a Jewish family he got his first camera at the age of six. He fought in the Resistance and the period of the war was one of the two big themes of his cinema.  The other one were his gangster movies, which included the classic Le Samourai, maybe Alain Delon‘s best role, film which inspired Gost Dog, the film I love most in Jim Jarmusch’s cinema until now. Melvilled died at a relative young age, and left only 12 movies, but many of these were exquisite. He brought to the French cinema the shady and ambiguous atmosphere of the great American thrillers of the 40s and 50s, bringing the gangster movies at the same level as the traditional French art cinema. He led a lonely life, he at some point in time he bought a studio in which he not only made films but he also lived, film-making being not only his profession, but also his way of life and his permanent obsession.

source www.imdb.com

Le Cercle Rouge is a typical story for Melville’s cinema. His characters are gangsters and policemen, who while fighting the eternal wars one against the other share the same behavior and honor code, with rules of themselves, rules out of the books of rules, rules which do not request many words to be explained and followed. They also share the same dressing code, wearing the same trench-coats borrowed from the requisite of  Humphrey Bogart.

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Le Cercle Rouge brings to screen one of the exquisite teams of actors that could be gathered in a French film at that time. Alain Delon is in his natural element in the role of the gangster Corey, who just released from jail is dragged in a sophisticated jewelry theft. Delon is paired with Gian Maria Volonte who is in this film Vogel, the gangster on the run, whom Corey will recognize and who he will recognize as a fellow that destiny decided to meet together on the Red Circle (a Buddhist concept all invented by Melville for people that fate decides to put on the same track). They say that Volonte did not really cope well with the freedom that Melville used to give to his actors, I do not know if this is true, but nothing is to be seen on screen, and the Italian actor fits perfectly in the dynamics and relations of the film. Yves Montand completes the trio on the bad side of the law with a role which is smaller in words and screen time, but extremely exact and with a performance to remember. It is in the role of the cop that Melville made his most daring casting, selecting one of the greatest comic actors of France ever – Bourvil – in a completely dramatic role. This role was even more memorable taking into account that this was the last in his career.

(video source pipeoxide)

Le Cercle Rouge is a well told story which survives well the four decades since its making due to the consistent art of the director, and to the remarkable acting of its stars, who meld well into the film, playing their characters and not themselves. At a time when the American genres like the westerns and the gangster movies were making their way into the European cinema, Melville and his film are almost typical examples of the moment. A few years later it was the European art cinema which made its way back refreshing the themes and the genres in Hollywood. The dialog between the two cinema schools continues, to the delight of the film fans from all over.