Army Of Shadows Movie Review

It's hard to imagine a cinematic culture where a monumental achievement like Jean-Pierre Melville's 1969 film Army of Shadows would fall into obscurity, but then again we just recently got our eyes on Killer of Sheep. The reasons behind the withholding of Melville's unreleased French resistance epic are plentiful; they stretch from the arguable lack of commercial appeal of the film to its controversial, striking opening shot of German soldiers goosestepping down the Champs Elysees, two decades after they had actually commandeered the country. Whatever the reason, 2006 saw Rialto Distribution (which recently looked over the re-release of Alberto Lattuada's fearsome Mafioso) supervised the reappraisal of Shadows with the help of its ace cinematographer, Pierre Lhomme.

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.

Cast & Crew

Producer : Jacques Dorfmann

Starring : Lino Ventura, , , Paul Crauchet, , Paul Meurisse, Christian Barbier


Comments

Army Of Shadows Rating

" Essential "

Rating: NR, 1969

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