Staging a prison break before the credits even start, Gustave (Lino Ventura, the epitome of glacier cool), constantly referred to as Gu, quickly finds his way to a Paris safe house as he begins to plan a way to get to Marseilles with his girlfriend Manouche (Christine Fabréga) and enough dough to retire from the underworld. It's not long before he's giving up his desire to kill local hood Jo Ricci (expert sniveler Marcel Bozzuffi) instead planning to rob a police transport with Ricci's brother Paul (Raymond Pellegrin). The take is nearly a billion dollars worth of platinum bars, though it will mean working with hot-tempered upstart Antoine Ripa (Denis Manuel).
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In the murky gloom of a makeshift work camp, soldiers drop off Gerbier (the immortal Lino Ventura) to be put eventually in front of the Nazi tribunal. The German occupancy of France has sent a few loyalists underground to join the resistance, calculating ways to lower the German numbers and quickly dispatching any members of the resistance that get loose-lipped. When he is brought before the Nazis, Gerbier orchestrates a breathless escape from their headquarters. From there, Melville's film becomes a stunning, globetrotting spy masterpiece, shifting from the windy desolation of north France to the burnt dystopia of Marseilles with a brief stint in London.
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Jeff (Alain Delon) is the main character in Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï, a nuanced, surprising crime film from the days of the French New Wave. The film takes a minimalist look at a hitman's doomed existence, following Jeff through a hit and the unexpected outcomes of that action. He is picked up and questioned by an uncompromising police inspector (Francois Périer) and is let go after exasperating tests and questioning. The only witness to his crime is the piano player, Valerie (Caty Rosier), who denies seeing him at the club at all. Jeff doesn't squeal, but his employer sets a price on his head which is almost carried out, but not to full expectations. He offers Jeff another hit worth $2 million. Carrying out this hit ignites a strange but enthralling chase scene and ultimately leads him to his doom.
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So, fair warning: Jean-Pierre Melville's 1970 Le Cercle Rouge (in re-release by Rialto Pictures with a blessing by John Woo) is just a heist film. It has all the familiar elements detailed above. Why, then, is it a masterpiece?
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With his young protege Paolo (Daniel Cauchy), Bob le Flambeur (Bob the High Roller) decides to rob the nearby Deauville casino on Grand Prix night, a huge safecracking job requiring lots of knowhow, inside knowledge, and plenty of guns. But as with any heist, loose lips and second thoughts get in the way... as does Bob's legacy as a gambler. And of course, the various dames in their lives only make matters worse.
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'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.