- Could Have Been Called "Army of the Dead" 4/3/2008 12:00:00 AM by evanston_dad
Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows" is a sombre film about the French Resistance during WWII. It's yet one more movie that makes me feel like I have a terrible grasp of history, as I knew virtually nothing about the movement before seeing this. Melville himself was a member of the Resistance, so I can only assume that his film is fairly accurate. It's powerful, but not obviously so. It doesn't inspire tremendous reactions or emotions while viewing it, but it gets in your head and stays there.
The film is lacking any of that championing of the underdog spirit that infuses so many other stories about scrappy groups resisting the tyranny of the powerful. The members of the French Resistance in this film live like unearthly beings, skittering from one shadowy doorway to another, trying to erase any sign of themselves. The movie suggests that this need for non-existence bleeds into their psychology as well -- the film's main character becomes nearly inhuman in his devotion to the cause and his ability to ruthlessly do away with colleagues when there's a chance that one of them might jeopardize the others. He's not inhuman, but he must do inhuman things, because the desperation of his and his comrades' situations calls for it.
The Criterion Collection's print of the film looks terrific, or at least as terrific as the film's dreary pallet of grey and brown will allow. Melville gives the film an authentic look -- only some scenes set in the London blitz and on an aircraft carrier have a studio set look to them.
A shot of the Arc di Triomphe both opens and closes the film: a symbol of the France that would eventually emerge from the dark days of WWII, or an ironic jab at a country that can't take much credit for fighting off the tyranny of fascism?
- Heroism in its ugly glory, as history tells it 2/12/2008 12:00:00 AM by rory-campbell
Based on truth, the Army in the Shadows takes the French men and women of the Resistance as its theme, at a point near the end of the war when the Resistance movement and Nazi intelligence about its work and staff are both firmly established. As well as giving a thrilling history lesson in the workings of the Resistance, from the rural ladies who operated safe houses, to the chateaux-dwelling aristocrats whose lawns played host to light aircraft smuggling collaborators in and out of France, it also is a fascinating essay on the gruesome realities of heroism: including moments of hopelessness and complete failure of nerve. Events test our group of collaborators, so that each one bumps up against his or her personal limit, as to what they are intelligent enough to understand, brave enough to endure, and determined enough to achieve. Excellently acted and directed, it is a classic uncompromising Melville thriller.
- A masterpiece by the book 7/12/2004 12:00:00 AM by auberus
Never before (and after) a movie on French Resistance has been so "glamourless". Jean-Pierre Melville has been hailed as the father of the French gangster film. Certainly, his gangster films are probably the films for which he is best known (Le Doulos, Deuxieme Soufflé, Le Samourai, Le cercle rouge, Bob le flambeur) on par if not better than anything which Hollywood produced. Yet the world of the anonymous gun-toting hoodlum occupies only a part of his oeuvre.
'L'armee des ombres' (aka The Shadow Army) is Jean Pierre Melville 1969 masterpiece and does not deal with gangsters. The film is a mix of the director's war time experiences in the French Resistance and Joseph Kessel successful wartime novel. What is remarkable about this film is that Melville turned a mosaic of anecdotes that Kessel's novel is all about into a great, dark epic.
From the chilling opening shot of Germans marching down the Champs-Elysées to the final scene involving the fellow Resistant Mathilde (the great Simone Signoret) the film seems to demonstrate that fighting for an ideal often leads towards death and solitude. What Melville does successfully is to show those dead-ends the way they occur to their protagonist (very simply and minimalist), however more than showing them Mr. Melville managed to make these realities (death and solitude) an equally tragic experienced for the audience...
'L'armee des ombres' is Melville's most moving film, a monument to the spirit of the Resistance rather than its actuality. A poignant drama with a strong performance from not only Lino Ventura but also Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Jean Pierre Cassel, Claude Mann, Paul Crauchet to name a few.
This is probably Melville's greatest cinematographic achievement and, when fiction becomes reality, when actors leave behind their egos to resurrect into heroes, when the colors of the film mirror the one of the soul and when silence becomes music, true cinema has been achieved? 'L'armee des ombres' is a terrible yet powerful experience in which the words duty, courage, abnegation get charged with meaning?
- Outstanding--but brutal--film 10/2/2006 12:00:00 AM by Red-125
"L'Armée des ombres" (1969) was shown in the U.S as "Army of Shadows." The film is co-written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.
The time is 1942 and the setting is France. Lino Ventura plays Philippe Gerbier, a high-ranking officer in the French resistance. Gerbier is intelligent, resourceful, and brave. He and his small band of urban fighters are constantly in danger of capture and torture by the Nazis. This isn't a film of rural partisans--it's a film where people meet in cafés and offices. No one knows when Nazi soldiers or Gestapo will sweep down and drag them off. No meeting is safe, and no relationship is safe either--how many people can remain silent under savage tortures that go on for days?
Although Ventura is excellent in the role, the movie is dominated by Simone Signoret as Mathilde--tougher and braver than any of the men, but possessing one terrible weakness.
This movie is different than most films about the French Resistance. Things don't go smoothly, they don't go well, fear is everywhere, and heroism often takes place in a prison cell where no one ever learns of it. It's fascinating, but grim.
"Army of Shadows" is a neglected film by a great director. It's definitely worth seeking out.
- A Classic in World Cinema 4/27/2006 12:00:00 AM by GRMacE
If you have any interest whatsoever in French cinema, World War II, moral ambiguity, or Simone Signoret, see this film.
Filmed in a cold, documentary-like style, the "Shadow Army" tells the intertwining stories of several members of the French resistance. The movie defies any sort of simple categorization. It is a thriller without being thrilling. It is a spy story without a single gadget. It portrays the tedium of the task without being boring. Finally, it tells a story of heroic courage without the benefit of a single hero. That last point isn't immediately evident and you are free to disagree, of course, but heroes (as defined in the usual movie terms) are hard to come by in this story.
A popular adage goes; one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. This movie serves up proof to that lie. There are true freedom fighters that will never be labeled "terrorist" and you will meet them during the course of this film. The movie makes clear that they, and the ones around them, paid a high price in pursuit of freedom. Not just in life and limb, but in moral conviction. As the movie unfolds, I found myself asking, is this action justified? The answer, of course, is that it most certainly is. The better question is would I, or anyone I know, have the courage to do what had to be done.
The technical aspects of the film are all first rate even though a bit below the best of European cinema at the time. (In some ways, the lack of high definition color and sets give it a feel much more in keeping with the time it portrays.) The actors disappear into their roles and there is not a star-turn to be found.
According to the announcement made before the screening I attended, it is being released in the United States on May 12, 2006, just before the summer blockbuster crush. Why that date and why now, almost 30 years after it was made, I do not know. My guess is it probably has something to do with money. (Doesn't it always?) Whatever the reasons, skip the Tom Cruise vehicle and don't miss the opportunity to see it.