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JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLES MASTERPIECE ABOUT THE FRENCH RESISTANCE WENT UNRELEASED IN THE UNITED STATES FOR THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS, BEFORE ITS TRIUMPHANT THEATRICAL DEBUT IN 2006. ATMOSPHERIC AND GRIPPING, ARMY OF SHADOWS IS MELVILLES MOST PERSONAL FILM, FEATURING LINO VENTURA, PAUL MEURISSE, JEAN-PIERRE CASSEL, AND THE INCOMPARABLE SIMONE SIGNORET AS INTREPID UNDERGROUND FIGHTERS WHO MUST GRAPPLE WITH THEIR OWN BRAND OF HONOR IN THEIR FIGHT AGAINST EVIL.
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 ShannonSee all Editorial Reviews
Great film and story with stellar cinematography and pacing about French resistance to Nazi occupation directed by an all-time great filmmaker. Read morePublished 4 months ago by reuven roslyn
Hard-hitting story of the French Resistance. Shocking at times. The viewer will feel the cold fear that the hero suffers as he fights to stay free of arrest and internment by... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Maximo
I watched this film first by accident, on another interactive channel. My parents were French immigrants and spoke it daily throughout my childhood, so my French is thin but... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Mark Paul Casagrande
you aren't likely to find a film about the french underground that comes close to this in content and reality.Published 16 months ago by will crow
Superb cast of great French & Italian actors, headed by Lino Ventura and Simone Signoret. Intelligent, profoundly moving. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Jan Cambria
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 morePublished 22 months ago by Thomas E. Maddocks