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1941 in a small town in Nazi occupied France. Against the will of its elderly male and his adult niece residents, the Nazis commandeer a house for one of their officers, Lt. Werner von ... See full summary »
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Charles Le Clainche,
During the first World War, two French soldiers are captured and imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp. Several escape attempts follow until they are sent to a seemingly impenetrable fortress which seems impossible to escape from.
France, 1942, during the occupation. Philippe Gerbier, a civil engineer, is one of the French Resistance's chiefs. Given away by a traitor, he is interned in a camp. He manages to escape, and joins his network at Marseilles, where he makes the traitor be executed... This non-spectacular movie (do not expect any Rambo or Robin Hood) shows us rigorously and austerely the everyday of the French Resistants : their solitude, their fears, their relationships, the arrests, the forwarding of orders and their carrying out... Both writer Joseph Kessel and co-writer and director Jean-Pierre Melville belonged to this "Army in the Shadows". Written by
In the sequence when Mathilde exits the car and silently waves goodbye to Gerbier, in response he rolls his window up completely, yet in the very next shot his window remains open as the car drives away. See more »
This is a tough, somber film that captures the absurdities involved in war, and, ultimately, in life. The French Resistance "heroes" in the story are never shown conducting sabotage or planned attacks against the Germans, as one would get in a traditional World War II movie. Instead, we follow their claustrophobic and paranoid lives as they move from one hiding place to another (or one prison to another), constantly hounded by those in power, haunted by their own actions and the inability to communicate with those dear to them. Melville shows us their doubts and questions as they deal with betrayal, cowardice, and the murky ethics of killing their own to preserve the larger good.
Every episode in the film seems to lead to a darkly ironic conclusion, and the meaninglessness of their efforts becomes almost overwhelming, except that, somehow, these ordinary people continue to offer resistance in the face of death, so that their heroism lies not in the ability to stop the Germans but in taking action at all while facing the abyss.
While the acting is excellent all around, Lino Ventura's performance as Gerbier deserves special attention. It's hard to imagine any other actor bearing the tremendous weight of this film as well as he does. Gabin, at an earlier age, might have had the physical and emotional strength, but I'm not sure he would've been capable of Ventura's unassuming portrayal, which is so necessary for his character. The "shadows" at the core of this tale are seriously dark, and Ventura's Gerbier is strong enough to face them, yet modest enough to realize he can't conquer them on his own. The only way the Resistance makes sense by the end of this film, is in the collective effort of its members. Similarly, each of us, individually, cannot conquer death, but we as a group of human beings can continue to live on. _L'Armée des ombres_ ultimately moves beyond a story of the French Resistance in World War II and serves as a powerful existentialist epic, with Ventura's performance responsible for much of the film's dignity and humanity.
As with _Léon Morin, prêtre_ (1961), another story set during the war, Melville seems more emotionally present in _L'Armée des ombres_ than he does in his policiers or noir pieces, and after seeing the film, his overall body of work suddenly seems much heftier. While the movie isn't as visually daring of some of his other works, it has a dark beauty all its own, and his pacing, editing, shot selection, and use of sound show him in great artistic control. Forty-eight hours after seeing it, I still find myself caught in its world.
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