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Army of Shadows (The Criterion Collection) (1969)

Lino Ventura , Paul Meurisse , Jean-Pierre Melville  |  Unrated |  DVD
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret, Claude Mann
  • Directors: Jean-Pierre Melville
  • Format: Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: May 15, 2007
  • Run Time: 145 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000NOK0HG
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,447 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Army of Shadows (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description


Who would've guessed that the best film of 2006 would be a 37-year-old thriller about the French Resistance during World War II? Hailed as a masterpiece by an overwhelming majority of reputable critics, Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows wasn't officially released in America until 2006 (hence its appearance on many of that year's top-ten lists), but its reputation as a French classic was already well-established throughout Europe. Fully restored in 2004 and released in the U.S. by Rialto Pictures, it represents the gold standard of films about the French Resistance, based upon Joseph Kessel's 1943 novel and imbued with personal touches by Melville, an Alsatian Jew whose own involvement in the Resistance qualifies Army of Shadows as a semi-autobiographical exercise in somber nostalgia, as indicated by an opening quote echoing Melville's ironic belief that memories of Nazi occupation needn't always be traumatic.

Having lived through this history, Melville doesn't treat it lightly; in Army of Shadows, the threat of death hangs over every scene like a shroud. Unfolding with flawless precision, the plot begins in 1942 and focuses on a small, secretive band of Resistance fighters led by Gerbier (Lino Ventura), whose intuitive sense of danger lends additional suspense to the film's dark, atmospheric study of grace under pressure. While working in the classical tradition of the Hollywood films he admired, Melville breaks from convention with lengthy, deliberately paced scenes in which tension builds to a subtle yet almost unbearable intensity. With the possible exception of a brief and wryly humorous scene involving Resistance leader (and future Prime Minister) Gen. Charles de Gaulle, every scene in Army of Shadows supports Melville's predominant themes of solitude and futility. Melville's visually and thematically bleak outlook may prove challenging for some, but Army of Shadows is remarkably beautiful in its own way, and it gains power with each additional viewing through flawless development of memorable characters played by a first-rate cast. Especially memorable is Simone Signoret as Gerbier's boldly pragmatic ally Mathilde, a woman in a war of men, with a tragic vulnerability that ultimately decides her fate. As intellectually stimulating as it is thrilling to experience, Army of Shadows represents the triumphant zenith of Melville's posthumous recognition as a world-class auteur. Thanks to the Criterion Collection, this masterpiece can now be widely appreciated, along with Criterion's previous DVD releases of Melville's earlier classics Bob Le Flambeur, Le Samourai, and Le Cercle Rouge. --Jeff Shannon

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
78 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long Overdue Release of a French Classic May 15, 2007
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Many thanks to Criterion for bringing yet another forgotten foreign classic to a U.S. audience on DVD. "Army of Shadows" is one of the most underrated and magnificently shot films ever made about the French experience in World War II, and was a marked departure for director Jean Pierre Melville, who built his reputation on crime-themed noirs such as "Le Samourai," "Un Flic," and "Le Doulos." For my money, this was his best film, and also his most personal statement: He was involved in the French Resistance himself, and he knew that most of war is not about the pageantry, gallantry, and heroism depicted in so many flagwaving epics. Instead, Melville attempts a more honest portrayal of people who were afraid, on the run, unable to trust anyone, physically and emotionally exhausted, and all too familiar with the painful task of killing their own as well as the enemy. The result is a film in which the filmmaker's feelings are as evident and moving as his cinematic technique is impressive. A must-own. Now that it's finally possible to own it!
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Melville's masterpiece March 1, 2007
L'Armée des Ombres is not nearly as well-known as it deserves to be. For a long time incredibly difficult to track down unless you speak French and overshadowed by the reputations of Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge and Bob le Flambeur, it's by far Jean-Pierre Melville's most heartfelt and powerful film. The resistance is as much a part of Melville as cinema - Melville was one of the false names he used during the war - and this is a film that feels as if it has been lived by the people making it: it's not so much a tribute as a confession of guilt. Although the gangster parallels are there, it's not an affectation: after the war, many resistance figures famously put their newly learned talents to use by either going into crime or politics. Melville went into movies.

His protagonists aren't action heroes. They don't blow up trains or bridges. They deliver radios and spend more time killing each other than killing Germans. Indeed, the film's four month timespan from October 1942 to February 1943 covers a moral journey that sees them go from killing traitors to killing friends. Many of their plans fail, their gestures often futile as it becomes clear that these people will never live to see the liberation - something brought tragically to light in the film's final moments that carry a real emotional punch absent in Melville's other work. The final image of the Arc de Triomphe glimpsed furtively through the windscreen of a car hurrying away from the murder of a friend is a solemn and bitter one: this is the human cost of victory. (The sequence originally ended with a shot of German troops parading down the Champs Elysee, emphasizing that nothing has changed, but the shot was moved to the opening of the film, acting both as historical scene-setter and leitmotif bookend.
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36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nerves of Steel May 16, 2007
Director Jean-Pierre Melville drew from his own experiences of The French Resistance during World War II to make the same-titled novel into an inspired movie. Capturing the gamut of participants and demonstrating that not all of the French were on board, 'Army of Shadows' zeroes in on some of the more effective players who must operate with nerves of steel to sneak around, outfox, and escape from their German occupiers and undermine their influence.

Protagonist Phillippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a civil engineer, is the focal point. At the beginning he is sent to a prison the French originally meant for the Germans. After a skillful escape, he must continue the mission and dote over any fellow member who may be subsequently captured and tortured, so that the operation won't be revealed to the Nazis. One focal point of tension is when fellow member Felix (Paul Crauchet) is captured, and Phillipe laments he has no cyanide capsules to take his own life if the pressure is too much for him. Having connections for communication and arms from London and a spy network that matters make their operation essential are amongst many of the tactics in their arsenal. (Some of the London scenes are quite interesting. Phillipe's British laison doesn't trust the bumbling French and is stingy with arms. Visiting a jazz discoteque in London, the dancers don't even flinch at the sounds and shaking of bombs.) Resourceful in their repertoire is shop owner Matilde (Simone Signoret) whose own family doesn't even suspect her involvement. Her clever insights make her a key player in their operation.

'Army of Shadows' is methodical, sometimes requiring the patience requisite of the resistance. The timing merely gives the audience an unnerving sense of the imminent dangers lurking amongst them.
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oblivion Seekers May 19, 2007
To view a Jean-Pierre Melville film is to step into a universe where real communication between men (and the occasional woman), if it exists at all, has been reduced to a few spare facial expressions. Melville's characters are deeply skeptical of social codes (which simply provide rationalizations/justifications for countless injustices), of human nature (which is mutable and unreliable), and of themselves. And since his characters are deeply skeptical of the things that usually bind people together Melville's social/human outcasts maintain some sense of self only by setting their own course according to a supra-human standard. It is human nature to seek friendship and brotherhood but in the human world no bond is ever sacred and the only inevitable thing about bonds is that they eventually break. Melville's universe is thus a fatalistic universe populated by gamblers, thieves, assassins, and resistance fighters who each recognize that the odds are against them and unbeatable. But Melville's quiet anti-heroes fascinate us because even though they do not believe that anything like victory is ever achievable in human affairs they remain curious about themselves and how they will act in different circumstances and so they persist if only to test themselves and re-affirm (perhaps only to themselves) that they are made of harder stuff than the rest of fickle humanity.

There have been relatively few insightful French films about WWII. A few that come to mind are: Clouzot's Le Corbeau (1943), Resnais' Night and Fog (1955), and Chabrol's Eye of Vichy (1993).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars gritty
you aren't likely to find a film about the french underground that comes close to this in content and reality.
Published 4 months ago by will crow
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting Film
Superb cast of great French & Italian actors, headed by Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret. Intelligent, profoundly moving. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Jan Cambria
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a part of life I hope we never know
This is a wild film. It is a story about people whose homeland was invaded and their government and army could not protect them. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Thomas E. Maddocks
5.0 out of 5 stars BRILLIANT !
LOVE LOVE LOVE Army of Shadows. The movie is beautiful and powerful. And criterion's edition is first rate packaging and in technical quality. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Meta Fitrin Harisno
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow
Better than I could have imagined. Incredible commitment from the actors to the atmospheric cinematography, direction never a false tour d' force.
Published 17 months ago by SLysohir
5.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking, game-changing film
I first saw this movie in 2007 when Criterion released it in the US, and fell in love with it. I was already a huge fan of Melville, Le Cercle Rouge being one of my favorite movies... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Hartwell
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth learning an other Language
Are we Jaded? Rate this product. . . We EXPECT what we purchases to BE. To work without difficulty, without oops, without interruptions, to provide the intended use. Read more
Published 18 months ago by halh
5.0 out of 5 stars Make no Shadow
I had never heard of this film before but I found it to be very entertaining and educational. For its time (pre-1976) this is a remarkable film. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Gene Cisco
4.0 out of 5 stars 'The Expendables', indeed.
L'armée des Ombres (Army of Shadows) (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969)

When it comes right down to it, Jean-Pierre Melville's wonderful Army of Shadows probably comes... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Robert Beveridge
5.0 out of 5 stars Inglorious Basterds
There comes a time when you decide not to run. L'armée des Ombres is perhaps Melville's finest accomplishment. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Adron Gardner
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