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.
Melville was predominantly known as a keen director of art-house gangster flicks, hitting his stride with the chilling, sublime Le Samourai. Following that film, Shadows confirms Melville as one of the most calculating directors in his country's history, laying the groundwork for the likes of Godard and Truffaut (two indebted filmmakers to Melville's studied sense of dread).
Though technically a war film and surrounded always by a sense of action and paranoia, very little action actually exists in the film, often relying more on the whispered triangles of momentum that are set-off by Gerbier and his associates. They all endure hardships and suffer atrocities; a few are tortured, psychologically blackmailed and, in a scene of ice-cold resolve, murderers of betraying comrades.
The life of a resistance agent has only one plague, and that is the disease of distrust. In this way, Ventura creates the penultimate visage of solemn obedience. Gerbier doesn't have a family to go home to like his comrade Mathilde (the magnificent Simone Signoret) and his only friends are those who fight next to him. Melville's film spans continents, yet it seems singularly focused on this soldier of the cause. His detachment from feeling drives him to the film's ultimate heartbreak and finally, to the end of the resistance. At times wildly sprawling yet distinctly centered, private but communal, Army of Shadows finds its heart in that enigma of seeing both a country through one man's eyes and a man through his country's eyes.
Criterion's DVD extras include a commentary track pinned to the 2004 restored version of the film. A second disc includes numerous video and audio excerpts, and a 1944 documentary about the resistance.
Aka L'Armée des ombres.
Run time: 145 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th September 1969
Box Office USA: $0.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $741.8 thousand
Distributed by: Rialto Pictures LLC.
Production compaines: Les Films Corona, Fono Roma
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Fresh: 71 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Producer: Jacques Dorfmann
Screenwriter: Jean-Pierre Melville
Starring: Lino Ventura as Philippe Gerbier, Paul Meurisse as Luc Jardie, Jean-Pierre Cassel as Jean François Jardie, Simone Signoret as Mathilde, Paul Crauchet as Félix Lepercq, Christian Barbier as Guillaume Vermesch « Le Bison », Claude Mann as Claude Ullman « Le Masque », Alain Libolt as Paul Dounat, Alain Mottet as le Commandant du camp, Alain Decock as Legrain, Serge Reggiani as le coiffeur
Also starring: Jean-Pierre Melville
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