An enormous box-office success in France on its release in the early 70s, Jean-Pierre Melville's penultimate film "Le Cercle Rouge" is a typically laconic and fatalistic thriller from the revered French writer-director.
Drawing on the iconography of classic American gangster films and the codes of Japanese samurai movies, "Le Cercle Rouge" celebrates a certain kind of criminal professionalism, whilst stressing the futility of its characters' actions.
As the opening quotation, ascribed to the Rama Krishna indicates, it's destiny which propels these mens' existences - "on the appointed day they will inescapably be reunited in the Red Circle."
The beautiful, ever-impassive Melville regular Alain Delon plays the recently released prisoner Corey, who teams up with Gian Maria Volonté's fugitive Vogel and Yves Montand's sharp-shooting ex-cop Jansen.
Planning to pull off an elaborate Parisian jewel heist in Place Vendome, the trio of immaculately-dressed gangsters find themselves pursued by a methodical, cat-loving inspector Mattei (Bourvil), who feels a certain kinship with his prey, not least because Jansen was a former classmate at police school.
Shot in washed out colours by cameraman Henri Decae, "Le Cercle Rouge" contains a terrific silent robbery sequence, where a white-gloved Montand de-activates the alarm system with one expertly-judged rifle shot. (The extended heist recalls the earlier "Rififi", although in that film the director Jules Dassin gave the viewer far more information about the domestic and private lives of his criminals.)
The scene where a delirious Jansen hallucinates snakes and spiders crawling over his bed feels misjudged, and even by Melville's standards, women are utterly marginalized here, with Corey's former girlfriend not even named.
Yet in this newly restored two-and-a-half hour version, one can still savour Melville's leisurely storytelling, the skilfully pared-down visual style, and the calmly understated central performances.