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Army of Shadows (The Criterion Collection)
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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
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I am so glad I watched this film a second time with the accompanying commentary by film historian Ginette Vincendeau. Read morePublished 23 days ago by Amazon Customer
It might have been a very good movie but the subtitles take something away.Published 1 month ago by Satyaban
Must to understand one the II WW "shadow" part.
But do not forget to read the book before.
I would have given it a 5 star If it would have streamed to my TV instead of the computer. You have to make it easier to understand what is going on.Published 8 months ago by Patricia Tjader
Very good movie. I used it for a French project and it was very useful. Would recommend to any French learned.Published 8 months ago by Ted Harris