This may be Jean-Pierre Melville’s most concentrated film, and it is certainly so during the jewel heist and its tragic aftermath. Le cercle rouge is about Paris, loyalty, and evil so bone-deep it is scarcely recognized as such by the one toting it: Le Commissaire Mattei, who believes he is simply doing his job in tracking down the thieves, but who uses wiles and deceit to engineer the outcome, the deaths of all three, along with the unintended collapse of a sixteen-year-old boy, who may or may not survive (pointedly, hauntingly we never find out), but who proved useful along the way to pressure information from his father. Of course, Hannah Arendt had something historical in mind when she coined the phrase “the banality of evil”; but Mattei’s workday procedure approaches demonstration of just that when we consider that Melville’s Mattei recalls wartime collaborationists and his thieves the Resistance. To the extent that Mattei, after all, represents law and order and the thieves a concerted violation of that, we feel a twinge of moral ambiguity, as befits Melville’s cinema, life, and historical memory. Mattei’s fondness for dogs and cats may be interpreted as a humanizing touch; it may also be a solitudinous outlet for the monstrous inhumanity directing him. Hitler, too, was fond of his pets.
The boy who is rushed from police headquarters to hospital: we don’t forget him—and neither can Melville, who has dressed his feet in startlingly red socks.
Alain Delon is Corey, whose departure from prison at the outset ensures his lethal outcome; Gian Maria Volontè is Vogel, whose escape from Mattei’s custody at the outset ensures his outcome, which at the last he seals by heading into the circle of danger to protect Corey. Both actors are excellent.
B(U)Y THE BOOK
MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.