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Film / Le Cercle rouge

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"Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, drew a circle with a piece of red chalk and said: 'When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the red circle.'"

Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle) is a 1970 film directed by French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. It was his next-to-last film.

Corey (Alain Delon), who is about to be released from prison, gets from a prison ward a hint for a possible jewel heist. Meanwhile, Vogel (Gian Maria Volonte) manages to escape from commisioner Mattei (Bourvil) who was escorting him in a train from Marseille to Paris. Vogel decides to hide in the trunk of the next best car at a nearby roadhouse and as fate would have it, Corey's car is the only with an unlocked trunk. Corey then gets through the police block and after some initial problems they become friends and decide to go to Paris. After a run-in with two mooks, Corey lets Vogel in on the jewel heist plans, but Vogel tells him that he is not what Corey was looking for and recommends Jansen (Yves Montand) for this particular task. All the while, Mattei is looking to find Vogel. He tries to get information from a night club owner called Santi who seems to know Vogel, he learns about the run-in with the two mooks concluding that Vogel was possibliy involved and from an anonymous informer he gets the names of the men involved in the jewel heist.


The heist itself is carried out without any incidents but afterwards their fence refuses to take the jewels because it would take him months to find a buyer. To make contact with a new fence, they decide to go to Santi, thereby sealing their fate.

Compare Rififi, a film from the 1950s that also was made in France, also involves a gang of cons plotting The Caper to rob a jewelry store, and also features a long dialogue-free heist sequence.



  • The Alcoholic: Jansen the ex-cop is introduced in a barren filthy shack, surrounded by empty liquor bottles. Once his part of the robbery (shooting out the alarm system) is done with, Jansen pulls out a flask and takes a whiff—but doesn't drink. Later he credits Corey's job offer with motivating him to quit the bottle, and says Corey and Vogel can have his share.
  • Anti-Hero: Our protagonists are thieves who have no interest in going straight.
  • Because Destiny Says So: It's never mentioned directly but through the quote at the beginning of the movie it's heavily implied that Vogel, Corey, Jansen and Mattei are destined to meet in the end.
  • Bound and Gagged: Corey and Vogel tie up and gag the guard of the jeweller's shop.
  • The Caper: Stealing 20 million francs worth of jewelry from a store.
  • Da Chief: The Chief of Police Marchand (Paul Amiot), who reprimands Mattei.
  • Chromosome Casting: Exactly one woman has one line of dialogue in the movie, namely Corey's ex-girlfriend, who has become Rico's moll. She doesn't get a name, appearing only as "Corey's old girlfriend" in the credits, but she does get to be naked.
  • Concealing Canvas: There is a safe behind a canvas at Rico's flat. Corey finds it quickly.
  • Creator Cameo: The Mustang that can be seen at the second roadblock belonged to Jean-Pierre Melville.
  • Criminal Procedural: The main characters, Corey and Vogel, are thieves.
  • Cut-and-Paste Note: The anonymous letter Mattei receives.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Jansen says that participating in the robbery is what helped him to quit drinking.
  • Epigraph: The films opens with an fake quote of Ramakrishna.
  • Fanservice: We're treated to a shot of Rico's mistress (Corey's old girlfriend) leaping nude out of a bed to listen in on Corey and Rico's conversation.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: The page quote which appears at the beginning of the movie was made up by Melville.
  • Foreshadowing: The Chief of Police Marchand (Paul Amiot) says that every man, even a policeman, is guilty. Later, an ex-policeman (Jansen) participates in a heist.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Mattei frames Santi's son for drug trafficking in order to have a leverage on his father. It turns out he was actually selling marijuana.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Jansen disarms the alarm system by shooting a bullet into the keyhole that triggers it.
  • The Informant: Santi becomes one, because of Mattei's pressure.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: Corey is approached by a guard and offered the job robbing the jewelry store the night before Corey is released.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The way Vogel shoots both mooks makes it look like they shot each other.
  • Meaningful Echo: The lines of the Chief of Police Marchand about the guilt of every man is repeated first by Mattei when he understands that Santi's son is really a drug trafficker and second by Marchand himself at the end of the story.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Mattei simply uses some shades to disguise himself as the new fence.
  • Pink Elephants: Jansen wakes up after an alcohol bender and hallucinates a variety of creatures, including giant spiders, lizards, snakes, and rats. (This is a relatively rare and accurate depiction of Pink Elephants as happening not during a drunken spree but after a drunken spree, during withdrawal.)
  • Punk in the Trunk: Vogel, desperate to escape the cops, jumps into the trunk of Corey's car. Corey, who recognizes a fellow hoodlum, lets him.
  • Self-Imposed Challenge: In-Universe. When it's time for Jansen to shoot the lock, he makes sure to show Corey the tripod he has set up, aligned just right so that his special bullet will hit the keyhole. Then Jansen proceeds to pick the rifle up from the tripod, fire from the shoulder, and hit the target anyway.
  • Silence Is Golden: The heist runs 24 minutes without any dialogue. Lampshaded at the end of the heist sequence, when Mattei watches security footage and says "They're not much for talk."
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Mattei, who is determined to arrest Vogel.
  • Title Drop: The page quote, which appears as a crawl at the beginning of the film.
  • Trick Bullet: Jansen is shown smelting his own bullet. Later he explains to a mystified Corey that the idea is to make a special bullet that will be in a molten state when it hits the keyhole, which will allow it to fill up the space between the tumblers in the lock, thus acting like a key and deactivating the alarm system. It works.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The plan of the jewel heist is not explained to the audience and it is carried out without any incident.

Alternative Title(s): The Red Circle


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